Smartly dressed in blue skinny-legs, business shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a tie, Michael Griffiths takes his place at the grand piano and tells the musical journey of Annie Lennox. In the first person.
It jars at first to hear “I”, “me” and “my” from his lips – not only for documented facts, but also for personal feelings and thoughts – when describing such a well-known star, who is not only female but also very much alive to tell her own tale. But this discomfort soon fades as the songs and storyline take the main focus.
A remarkable performer himself, Griffiths not only has a fullsome voice and total mastery of the keyboard, but he plays with heart-rending passion that breathes new life into the songs that have entranced millions of fans for more than three decades.
And if you think you know all the Lennox songs and don’t want to her a wannabe pretender, think again; some of the subtle and sensitive arrangements that Griffiths plays highlight aspects of even her better-known works that are missed in more complex electronic forms.
How about Love is a Stranger in a ragtime beat? While Who’s That Girl was sung with such jealous rage that the floorboards quaked. Plus Griffiths includes a number of lesser-known solo songs, such as Little Bird and Walking on Broken Glass.
As a venue, fortyfivedownstairs works well acoustically, although there was minor crackling at one point that was distracting.
If music is the vehicle that Lennox uses to convey her thoughts and feelings, it was often love that was the fuel in its tank, and Griffiths focusses strongly on the role it plays in her songwriting, and in her life. From a songwriting point of view, Griffiths limits that mostly to her tumultuous, complicated relationship with lover-then-musical colleague Dave Stewart and her short and painful first marriage to a German Hare Krishna devotee.
Mixing facts with reflections, scriptwriter and director Dean Bryant covers a lot of ground and conveys a lot of feeling with an economy of words; in this he is ably aided and abetted by Griffiths, whose delivery is loaded; the 65-minute show is scattered with quotes from Lennox’s sage Scottish father and, without recourse to silly accents or flambouyant gestures, Griffiths can raise a laugh with each proverb, simply through his timing and delivery.
Towards the end of the show the audience finally gets to join in as backing vocalists for Thorn in My Side. It was taken up with so much gusto that it’s a shame it was a one-off.
But Griffiths and his alter ego Lennox are the stars of the show and shine brilliantly; a must-see for fans of The Tourists, Eurythmics or Annie Lennox alone, and a wonderful evening’s entertainment for lovers of darn good music played well.
2013 Melbourne Cabaret Festival
SWEET DREAMS: SONGS BY ANNIE LENNOX
by Dean Bryant
Director Dean Bryant
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 3 – 7 July, 2013
Tickets: $35 – $30 | Tables: $150 for 4 or $75 for 2