By Lisa Lanzi
Musically gifted and brilliantly curated, Nancy and Beth make being in the audience like entering an alternate reality. The sly, sardonic sometimes laugh-out-loud humour mix it with vaudeville, punk, musical theatre, blues, jazz and gospel vibes. This production is a coup for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival - and yes, Mullally and Hunt broke the fourth wall and shook their booty up and down the aisles with a little lounging around at the front of the stage ‘ogling’ the audience.
Love or hate the Will and Grace sitcom, most would recognize the Megan Mullally character, perpetually intoxicated Karen. However, this woman’s biography is much more than her TV roles. Her training included classical ballet and she has graced the stage in many musicals. The revelation for me was her voice. Full belt or soulful ballad, Mullally is perfection.
The other member of Nancy and Beth (they’ve never decided who might be Nancy and who is Beth) is Stephanie Hunt who left a journalism degree at University of Texas and landed a role in quirky TV drama Friday Night Lights. She is also thirty years Mullally’s junior but the synergy between the two is faultless and they share an equally amazing energy. Hunt’s voice is beautiful and creates the higher harmonies in the band.
Both women perform synchronised dance moves throughout (Mullally admits to being the choreographer). This movement component elevates the ‘band’ to physical theatre status and has a little of the George and Gilbert duo’s surrealist ambiance with matching outfits, hairstyles and glasses. As a dancer, I really appreciate what these women have produced. The physicality is relaxed but exacting, quirky but refined and sometimes downright hilarious.
Some songs are delivered with a unique comedic twist, perhaps with a spoken section performed by the duo like Tammy Wynette’s No Charge . Others are presented as they are, like the moving gospel-styled encore Up To The Mountain written by Patti Griffin with words taken from a speech Martin Luther King delivered the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. Mullally and Hunt were joined by backing vocalist Petra Haden in glorious three part harmony (in total stillness) which cast an eerie spell over the Dunstan Playhouse.
Another standout was the gutsy Please Mr Jailer (Wynona Carr), also on Nancy and Beth’s 2017 album, and featuring awesome tambourine chorry. Randy Newman’s Losing You was straight out smoky blues with simple keys and upright bass accompaniment, Mullally firmly recommending the composer as ‘genius’. In fact, every song was a joy to listen to and watch with the audience becoming more engaged and loud as the evening progressed.
The ‘non-script’ between songs was a warm and silly stream-of-consciousness prattle, mostly from Mullally with interjections from Hunt and sometimes the musicians. We covered the subject of the Walmart chairs that supported the Bob Fosse choreographic moments, Nancy and Beth’s love/hate relationship with the furniture and their lonely chair journey from America in the largest suitcase that could be found. We were then introduced to the suitcase along with Mullally’s infectious signature giggle.
There was much languid chat about the two women creating ‘stuff’ in Mullally’s house and that they were simply ‘over’ introducing the band. There was a request for someone in the audience to take over this onerous duty and oddly enough, actor Nick Offerman (Mullally’s husband) bounced on stage, grabbed a microphone and proceeded to take on the task. In a laid back but hilarious ode to Adelaide (firstly as the city of serial killers and then the city of churches) Offerman dutifully described each band member by listing features of some of our grand religious edifices. Last but not least, Mullally was mentioned for her ‘soaring twin spires that can be seen all the way from town’.
The mostly Texan musicians deserve special mention, their contribution much more than simply playing and adding backing vocals. The connection between everyone on stage was very strong even with the band resplendent in identical deep orange prison overalls. One can only imagine the wicked fun they have touring together, particularly with Nick Offerman in tow. Joe Berardi was on drums and percussion, Andrew Pressman bass and vocals, Petra Haden vocals and violin, Datri Bean on keys, cornet and vocals, Anthony da Costa on guitar and vocals.
I would return to the theatre and watch this all over again and truly hope I have that chance in the future. We need more Nancy and Beth stylized irony in the world, but only if it comes with the supreme artistry Mullally and Hunt and their collaborators bring to the stage.
Eleven out of ten!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.