Music / “Under the Influence”, directed by Tracy Bourne. At The Q, until November 4. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.
THIS was the fifth edition of the Shortis and Simpson series “Under The Influence”, where they meet well-known performing musical identities and explore their influences.
This time round, it was Canberra-born Michael (Mikelangelo) Simic, such a huge personality on stage that at times you could see Shortis and Simpson struggling to keep up.
Even so, Moya Simpson kicked off with a folk song “The Wild Croatian Boy”, a nod to Simic’s paternity, then joined him in a seductive version of “Sweet Summer Wine”, both of them acting it out to the hilt. Later they used the same approach to Simic’s notorious cabaret number, “Formidable Marinade”.
But it was not long before Simic, whether as boy “Mikely”, art student Mike or in his famous adult persona Mikelangelo, was well and truly centre-stage, charming the audience with his easy affability and bass-baritone voice.
It didn’t seem to matter what Shortis and Simpson turned his attention to, Simic was up for it – impersonating his favourite rock band The Cramps, reprising a cabaret number from his ventures into the Wollongong Balkan Club and describing his time working with schoolfriend (now professor) Geoff Hinchcliffe in the comedy duo, P. Harness.
Hovering in the background was John Shortis at the keyboard, master of new and old tunes, but this was not his night in the limelight, so he presented himself as a musical nerd sitting in the family garage at the old piano.
Simpson did her best to keep up with Simic, serendipitously aided by her own expertise in Balkan singing, which meant that she knew more Croatian songs that he did.
But then, he knew more “Sesame Street” songs than Simpson, seen in his larger-than-life portrayal of The Count, complete with his favourite Count Dracula accent, counting the beat for us in case we couldn’t – mostly, we could.
Simic took us on a wild ride through his varied career and musical tastes, giving us at one time a pastiche of his favourite Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen phrases sung Johnny Cash style, also sketching his dad’s time working on the Snowies, (“Snowy River Roll” ) his old lovers, and remembering the late David Branson, a founding member of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. He even appears scantily clad in what purported to be his sister’s underwear.
Meantime, Simpson regaled us with stories of her mod-rock days in London and Shortis emerged momentarily to give us a lesson in music theory and the non-western “Hijaz” scale made famous by Dick Gale in his surfing number, “Misirlou”, heard in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”.
But even here, Simic and “The Reprobates”, Matt Nightingale on bass, John “Jonesey” Jones, on drums and Dave O’Neill on guitar and fiddle, quickly took over to show us how it’s really done.
O’Neill, outdoing the entire cast with a flashy pair of red shoes, switched effortlessly between fiddle and guitar to give us some of the most memorable chords of the evening, while Jones made a good fist of the unusual Balkan rhythms.
Simic happily embraces the monikers Nightingale of the Adriatic, Bull of the Balkans and The Balkan Elvis, so it was inevitable that he would end the show-proper with a show-stopping “Viva Dubrovnik”.
But not to be outdone by his own big number, he returned to the stage to chat about the changes in his life that have seen him forsake the international stage for life in Majors Creek, where he and wife Rose are happily raising two children. Rose, we heard thinks he’d be an excellent kids’ entertainer, and that might not be far off.
As the entire ensemble return to stage for a quick encore, “Love Is All”, I for one was left wondering, how cool would it be to have Mikelangelo for a dad?
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