Michael Griffiths presents a phallocentric reading of Annie Lennox, but his music is superb.
Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox
In a one-man show, Michael Griffiths performs songs from the height of Annie Lennox’s career, dating mostly from the Eighties and Nineties. Accompanying Griffiths’s formidable voice with almost faultless piano, first- person narrative is cleverly interwoven with songs selected for their portrayal of events in Lennox’s life. The concept of representing both Lennox (and Madonna) without the aid of costume, wigs or accents is refreshing and exciting.
With Lennox being described as one of the greatest female pop performers - possessing a voice of extraordinary range - these songs are challenging to represent. Performing in Melbourne’s forty-degree heatwave, Griffiths’ professionalism is also admirable.
Nonetheless, there is something a little irksome about a man speaking for Lennox when she is such a powerful female icon of that era. The narrative - largely focused around her relationships with men and their influence on her music - is punctuated with comments from her father, usually his personal philosophies. The effect is a disproportionate emphasis on the males in her life, to the detriment of her own journey as a woman breaking new ground in gender representations.
The arrangements of Lennox’s songs, while mostly pleasing, seem a little sanitised and Griffiths’s performance is imbued with his theatrical background (he is well-known for his role in the popular theatre production, Jersey Boys). At no time are we ‘taken in’ and believe that we are listening to Lennox recounting her life story. This impression is not helped by Griffiths’s breaking character a couple of times during the performance. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful reminder of how beautiful some of these songs are and the audience derives great pleasure from the care with which they are arranged and performed, even if they take on a different form to the original. The rendition of ‘Walking on Broken Glass’ was a standout.
All in all, as a musical performance and an interpretation of Lennox’s songs, this is a great success. As a presentation of Lennox’s life story, however, it lacks some credibility.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
In Vogue: Songs by Madonna
In Vogue is an unashamedly tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Madonna through first-person monologue and song, interspersed with performances of some of her well-loved hits,
The format of the show as a ‘close encounter’ with the self-obsessed songstress lends itself beautifully to cabaret and to the Midsumma Festival. With Michael Griffiths accompanying himself on piano, it plays to Griffiths’s strengths. His comic timing and delivery are impeccable and Dean Bryant’s writing is both scathing and witty.
The show experiments with alternative versions of known favourites such as ‘True Blue’ to constitute a cleverly crafted production. Sung over the top of a Bach piano concerto, it presents a strangely unsettling experience. This is a delightfully mischievous portrayal of one of the most influential and egotistical personalities in music history, but if adulation is what you’re hoping for then you’ll be disappointed. Alternatively, if refreshing acoustic interpretations of these great pop songs and a laugh is what you’re after, then Griffiths will be sure to please. A fine performance and great writing.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox and In Vogue: Songs by Madonna
Performer: Michael Griffiths
Writer and director: Dean Bryant
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
15 - 26 January, 7pm & 9pm