Cameron Woodhead reviews In Vogue: Songs By Madonna for the Age. See the review in its original context here.
Dean Bryant’s pop-inspired cabaret continues to delight audiences: Christie Whelan returns in Britney over at Chapel off Chapel, and at fortyfivedownstairs, Michael Griffiths is camping out as Madonna.
In Vogue doesn’t reach for humane impersonation in the way the Britney show does, but it shares one quality that makes it unusually engaging as entertainment. By salvaging Madonna’s tunes from the tinny iterations of 80s pop, and twisting them into intricate arrangements for the baby grand, the show gives a lively sense of how good the songs really are.
Griffiths’ tea-sipping Madge exudes an aura of monarchical confidence that grounds the script’s garish incursions into celebrity parody. He makes no bones about being a man, and if the performance is limited by that fact, it is unconstrained where it counts – in its rangy vocal stylings, and in its creative musical adaptations, which slip chameleon-like through genres from easy listening to soaring ballads in duet, from up-tempo jazz-piano to slow and plaintive a capella.
The smartest numbers deconstruct pop music, as when Griffiths breaks down Express Yourself, building the song from its constituent elements through a crescendo that makes you appreciate the craftsmanship behind it. In contrast, he slyly quotes some of Madge’s lyrics out of context, and you wince at how vapid and banal they often sound.
Much of the show’s humour is low camp, and I could have done without obvious jokes based on Madonna’s controversial coffee-table book Sex. Griffiths also emphasises his subject’s 80s tracks at the expense of her later career; the ivories sometimes lose their tinkle (perhaps in imitation of the off-notes Madge is infamous for in live performance); and the songs aren’t welded to potted biography with quite the sparkle or dramatic force Bryant achieved in Britney.
Still, the audience was Griffiths’ to command, and if you’re a Madonna fan, In Vogue is great fun.