Hicks is normally to be found on the sidelines, subtly underlining beautiful voices. As one of Australia’s top repetiteurs, he’s usually the first choice to accompany visiting operatic and art song dignitaries when they come to town.
Head of voice at the beleaguered ANU School of Music until last year, he’s been behind most of the town’s operatic initiatives and productions in recent years.
But now that he’s out in the wider world, combining a leading role at UC Music with courses in voice and piano, he’s taking a dive into the netherworld of the Parisian demimonde.
I use the word “dive” advisedly, for the inspiration for the show is a woman made famous in a photograph by Georges Brassaï – “Bijou au bar de la Lune”. Dripping with fake jewellery, plastered with make-up and well past her prime, the real-life Madame Bijou knew all the dives in Paris.
Shaw was riveted by the photograph and recognised Bijou as the perfect subject for the kind of intelligent, one-woman show in which she specialises.
“The play’s had a good, long genesis,” says Hicks, who tells “CityNews” he first heard the music in development with The Street Theatre’s “Hive” project.
“The show has always required an accompanist and initially Peter J Casey did it before he moved to Wagga Wagga, then pianist Raphael Wong stepped in for a while.” Finally, The Street’s director, Caroline Stacey, with whom he’d spent nine hours a day for a month last year working on the opera “Albert Herring”, suggested Shaw approach him.
It’s a collaboration that’s worked well, with Shaw’s musical literacy matching his own. Conservatorium-trained in piano, she plays the clarinet and the accordion, and she also wrote the script, in which the ageing Bijou, once a belle but now living by reading palms and telling stories, confuses the past and the present, truth and lies as she talks to the piano man.
Hicks believes it’s the first time he’s appeared on stage “in a theatrical form” but that this venture into popular musical theatre is stretching him – “I’m developing my vamping skills,” he says.
“Sometimes I have a visible role, I am the pianist and we interact, there’s some Satie, Kurt Weill, Hollander, Bruant and even San Saens – a terrific selection,” he says.
Going right over the top, the pair have also insinuated operetta, political anthems, nursery rhymes, the waltz, the Charleston and exotic Eastern musical interpretations.
Hicks notes that it’s not solely a cabaret show, with visuals interwoven. With Victorian director Susan Pilbeam at the helm, Gillian Schwab, Imogen Keen and Victoria Worley as designers and Liz Lea as choreographer, the production will pull out all the theatrical stops.
And there is a warning from Hicks, constantly vigilant as the father of young children – this is definitely NOT “a show for all the family”.
“Bijou”, by Chrissie Shaw for Made in Canberra, at The Street Theatre, August 29-September 8, bookings to 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au
TOP PHOTO: Chrissie Shaw as Bijou. Photo by Lyndel Arnett