Review by Taylor Kendal
Despite the cold morning in Melbourne, warmth is brought once again with this month’s Morning Melodies at Hamer Hall. Audiences were treated to a spectacular hour of music brought together by two legends of the Australian and international stages, Simon Gleeson and Natalie O’Donnell. Accompanied by Kym Dillon on piano, the couple took us on a journey that promised to explore love, life and family through music.
No strangers to the stage, both Gleeson and O’Donnell have been entertaining audiences in Australia and around the world for over twenty years, bringing to life some of the most beloved characters in the history of the performing arts, not bad for a couple of kids from The Rock and Colac respectively. Their chemistry on stage is palpable, their individual vocal talents are exceptional while performing together, and in addition to sharing the stage together as often as they can, they also share a life, happily married with two beautiful children. And it is this performance that has been curated so beautifully with songs that not only reflect their personal performance journeys, that have inspired them, but also in their life together. It is such a beautiful concept that is delivered with such adoration for both their craft and for each other.
Opening the show with Fly Me to the Moon in all its smooth, jazzy glory is a wonderful choice with smooth transitions that suit Gleeson’s incredible vocal stylings well, soon joined on stage by O’Donnel who captures the audience with her effortless tone, letting their duet blend into Jason Mraz and Colbie Collat’s Lucky. From the beginning, the chemistry is present and it is clear that the two love being on stage, especially with each other. They are clearly enjoying themselves and it is infectious in the most wonderful of ways. I have had the privilege in the past seeing both perform at various times in the past and it is always an utter joy, but one thing that was an absolute stand out to me during this performance, was simply seeing how the two enjoyed watching their partner do what they loved. Watching them lose themselves in the other’s performance was beautiful, smiling and swaying while the other gave their all.
Natalie O’Donnell has such a captivating voice, a born storyteller with her words and her incredible vocal ability. Performing standards like Someone to Watch Over Me from Crazy for You, and a beautiful, slowed rendition of There’s No Business Like Show Business as a beautiful love letter to the stage and being thankful for having the opportunities to do what she loved. Breathtaking and effortless and with so much heart, it was beautiful, and juxtaposed with a passionate, raw and powerful performance of She Used to be Mine from Waitress showing an incredible range of depth and love for her craft, able to slip effortlessly between playful and hopeful, to longing and wistful is a true skill and a testament to her talent.
Perhaps one of the main highlights for me personally was hearing the two talk about their family. Interwoven between songs were tangents and anecdotes about their lives, playful quips and jabs at each other, and a few particularly sweet stories about their children. There is nothing quite like seeing a parent’s love for their kids, and this was showcased rather beautifully with a back-to-back number of Billy Joel’s Lullaby and Slipping Through My Fingers. Both poignant and telling of the love of a parent for their child, one sung as a lullaby, and the other a rather full circle moment, with O’Donnell having originated the character of Sophie in Mamma Mia for Australian Stages, and then more recently as her mother Donna in 2017. It is a beautiful, emotional moment that audiences were fortunate enough to witness.
Simon Gleeson has become one of Australia’s favourite leading men on stage and screen, performing in such incredible shows as Shout, Mamma Mia, Love Never Dies and Chess. He is perhaps most well known for his acclaimed role as one of the most sacred and beloved roles, that of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, of which he performed roughly 800 performances, and a role he was undoubtedly born to play. Gleeson also has a wonderful versatility to his vocal talents, jumping from big powerful numbers like Anthem to the fast paced and almost tongue tied I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You, in an emotive, frantic brilliance that would make Jason Robert Brown proud. Of course, the moment that stole the show, as it often does, was Gleeson’s performance of Bring Him Home left not a dry eye on the house. Still in presence but powerful and evocative, it never fails to tug at the heart strings every time.
In addition to their solo performances, Gleeson and O’Donnell compliment each other so incredibly well in their duets throughout the performance. Two highlights would be the closing number and encore of A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman and Once’s Falling Slowly, both so wistful and hopeful that it warms the heart with the honesty and pure emotion that cannot be denied.
If you ever get the chance to experience a performance by Simon Gleeson, Natalie O’Donnell, or even better, both together, make sure that you do. Such incredible talent, as soloists and together is one not to be missed.