“Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” written by Kurt Vonnegut, directed by Cate Clelland, Canberra REP at Theatre, until August 4. Reviewed BY LEN POWER
THERE was more than a hint of nostalgia surrounding Queenie van de Zandt’s decision to premiere her latest show, “Parting the Red Curtains” at The Q, just a few hundred metres from the long-gone School of Arts Café, where, in 1998, as a schoolgirl, she made her first professional appearances in a show called “The Essential Lloyd Webber” with Bronwyn Mulcahy and Peter J Casey, who is the co-writer of this current show.
All went on to have substantial professional careers in entertainment and while Queenie has appeared in any number of major musicals and established herself as one of the finest vocalists in the country, it is as her alter ego, Jan van de Stool, that she is best known.
Self-proclaimed International Musical Therapist, interpretive dancer, singing psychologist and musical masseuse, van de Stool is a brilliant creation who rivals Barry Humphries’ Edna Everage in her ability to convince her audience that she really is who she purports to be.
Malapropisms, mispronunciations, unselfconscious innuendo role off her tongue in side-splitting succession, as she happily skewers the cult of celebrity, self-help gurus, theatre critics, psychics and anything else that enters her mind.
Van de Stool proclaims at the beginning it is “a show that takes it up the arts”, and while she refreshingly eschews coarse language, she flies close to the flame as she hilariously instructs two hapless gents from the audience in the finer points of microphone technique.
The laughs commence early as van de Stool loosens up her audience with bump exercises, before inveigling some on to the stage to discover previously unsuspected cabaret talents. She interviews “celebrity” guests, battles a persistent ghost medium which keeps trying to take over her body, and copes heroically with her incompetent (unseen) accompanist, Helen.
Often bordering on the chaotic, it was hard to decide whether her show was under-rehearsed, or if van de Stool was being brilliantly subversive by de-constructing the genre to create that appearance. Either way, she is hugely entertaining, and audiences have the opportunity of a second performance tonight to decide for themselves, before Queenie van de Zandt reverts to song-bird mode to present two performances of her acclaimed cabaret, “Blue –The songs of Joni Mitchell”, for which Helen will be replaced by the legendary composer and pianist, Max Lambert.