By Taylor Kendal
There are very few staples in Australian music history quite like John Farnham. Whether you know him for his music, his cheeky larrikin personality, or his mullet, there’s no denying his presence in one way or another. And so the stage is set at Chapel off Chapel for a night of Farnham fever, with the return production of Age of Stephen. The audience filters in to The Loft, the thrum of 80s Australiana filling the air as the band take stage and then in he walks; ripped denim, leather jacket and blonde shaggy mullet for days. It’s the one, the only…Stephen Valeri?
Though Farnham he may not be, a fact that he confesses after the opening number of Two Strong Hearts where his mullet falls off and his ‘true identity’ revealed with him announcing; “My name is Stephen Valeri and I bloody love John Farnham!”, Stephen Valeri is a Farnsey fan since birth, and makes no secret of how much the singer has influenced his life, and the creation of this wonderfully entertaining cabaret performance. But not only has John Farnham been an influence on Valeri’s performing, but also affirming the belief, that though they haven’t met, they share a spiritual connection.
With the help of his three piece band, Kellie-Anne Kimber (keys and vocals), Andy Rousch
(Percussion), Caleb Garinkel (Guitar and vocals), Valeri takes the audience on a ride, entwining
stories from both his and Farnham’s early days, and managing to fit in seventeen of John Farnham’s classic songs in one hour. It is a feat, but with as much inspiration and determination that Valeri has, there is very little doubt that he will make it. Ranging from where it all began with Sadie the Cleaning Lady, and beloved favourites including Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Playing to Win and Age of Reason.
A highlight of the show is undoubtedly the ‘Farnsey Facts’; a list of things that both Valeri and
Farnham have in common which clearly gives reason to them being two of the same spirit and
destined to be connected for life. Things like having the same middle name, both having mullets in their youth, Parents born in Europe, and even so far as both of their fathers being employed by the Ford Motor Company (granted entirely different branches and roles, but hey, it’s still the same thing right?).
It becomes clear very early on that Valeri is a passionate performer, not just in his devotion of all
things Farnham, but in his love of performing and putting on a show that audiences will not only love but get involved in. Right from the first notes, he has a charm and cheeky charisma that leaves the audience falling in love him, as well as a humor that has you in stitches. But, one thing that was truly a stand out for this reviewer, was the voice – pardon the pun. Performing becomes a much easier task when you connect with the material, and with his lifelong love affair with this particular repertoire, the performance of these well known and beloved songs is near effortless.
Between the more rockier songs to the ballads of love and heartbreak, Valeri captures not only the essence of Farnham, but puts his own spin on it. If you close your eyes at particular points, you are utterly convinced that it is a young Johnny Farnham then and there. But of course, it is something uniquely Stephen Valeri, and it is stunning. Valeri’s duet medley of ballads including Please Don’t Ask Me, Touch of Paradise and Burn For You, sung with Kellie-Anne Kimber is utterly mesmerizing.
Now, Cabaret is nothing without a little audience participation, and in addition to the entire crown in stitches at Valeri’s perfect comedic touch, and singing along to the songs of an Australian legend, there was the addition of four rather enthusiastic audience members who played the role of the band ‘Human Nature’ for a number, and who were lucky enough to walk away with headshots of John Farnham himself…signed by Stephen, Valeri, of course!
There was a running gag through the show, every time ‘The Voice’ was mentioned, the band would start to play the intro to Farnham’s most iconic hit – much to the slight frustration of Valeri. Because that song is the big one, it captures ‘the voice’ and for a brief moment, Valeri wonders if there’s any point to his love for the man himself. But, with some help from the audience and his Farnsey Facts, Valeri closes the show with a big, passionate and completely enthralling rendition of ‘The Voice’. And really, upon reflection, there’s only one thing that this reviewer can say;
“My name is Taylor Kendal, and I bloody love Stephen Valeri!”
Photo Credit: James Thomas
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.