Aleksia Barron reviews In Vogue: Songs By Madonna for ArtsHub. See the review in its original context here.
The subterranean haven of fortyfivedownstairs is the perfect place to settle down with a champagne and suspend one’s disbelief at a man, sans costume and makeup, announcing that he is, in fact, Madonna. So does Michael Griffiths, who doesn’t bat an eyelid when declaring that he is, in fact, Madge herself, before merrily launching into a night of musical and comedic repartee.
The premise of In Vogue: Songs By Madonna may seem a little strange, but the execution is virtually flawless. Griffiths is a rare and wonderful performer of the variety that could sell wood to a beaver – but with such charm and conviction that they’ll buy it, just because he wants them to want it so badly.
Every single look from Griffiths is a wink and a nod to the near-ridiculousness of the show’s premise. “Don’t you think this is insane? Of course!” his eyes seem to be saying, twinkling with mirth. After all, it is a bit insane for a grown man to be sitting at a grand piano and announcing, with his deep, dark voice, that he is Madonna, the most famous bitch in the world. And it’s just insane enough that it works, in the most captivating possible sense. Disbelief is readily suspended in exchange for the pithy jibes at Madonna’s career trajectory and Griffiths’ exceptional realisation of her back catalogue.
Written and directed by the deservedly lauded Dean Bryant, the entire look and feel of the show – a piano, cabaret-style seating, and incredibly smart lighting design – is a triumph. Of course, it’s how the show sounds that’s most important here and the audience isn’t let down in the slightest. The stripped-back arrangements of some of the most iconic songs of the last 30 years plumb the melodies and lyrics for fresh meaning. One moment, the audience is marvelling at a nifty deconstruction of ‘Express Yourself’, and the next sniggering at a montage of Madonna’s attempts at film stardom. (Does anyone else remember that Die Another Day song? You will if you see this show!)
It’s not all cleverness and cattiness, though – there’s an incredible amount of heart present during In Vogue as well. Griffiths finds moments of genuine loveliness in his rendition of the notoriously tacky ‘Crazy for You’, and taps into a fresh vein of emotion when performing ‘Like a Virgin’ as an ode to the joys of motherhood. He creates a sense of togetherness in the room, reminding audiences that pop songs aren’t popular because they’re ordinary or vacuous, but because of the joy and connectedness that they inspire in the people who hear them. To miss this show would be even more of a crime than Madonna’s cover of ‘American Pie’.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars