By Lisa Lanzi
Make no mistake, Ms Lisa Fischer is music royalty. She is also generous and humble, her chat inclusive of sass and humour. I appreciated her gracious introduction of the Grand Baton musicians at the beginning of the set. With such a blend of talent and skilful musicianship onstage, I fear I may run out of superlatives!
Ms Fischer graced TV screens recently as unofficial star of 20 Feet From Stardom. This documentary uncovers often unnamed back-up singers who supported many famous musicians. “The backup singer exists in a strange place in the pop music world; … in the shadow of the feature artists even when they are in front of them in concert while they provide a vital foundation for the music.” Lisa Fischer is one support artist who has found opportunities to shine in her own right.
Our star strolled onto stage exuding spell, dressed in a flamboyant costume reminiscent of one of Australian designer Akira Isogawa’s structured gowns. We were captivated from her first words of introduction, her smoky and lilting speaking voice that always seems to convey a smile, or perhaps a cheeky undertone. I mention Ms Fischer’s attire because the warm green/gold colour was complemented perfectly by excellent lighting design. I was again reminded that our Festival Centre Technical Department is one of the best in Australia, often responsible for constructing the biggest touring show sets, even if the show doesn’t come here!
I also want to pay tribute to Grand Baton. These three musicians were an integral part of the performance with their amazing musical talent and their seamless backing vocals. Musical Director JC Maillard contributed vocals, lead guitar, keys and a handmade instrument called a SazBass. (An 8 steel-stringed electroacoustic instrument inspired by the traditional Turkish “saz” and Greek “bouzouki”, created and designed upon JC’s request by French luthier Herve Prudent.) JC is leader of Grand Baton, a composer, guitarist, pianist, singer/songwriter, arranger and a native of Pointe-à-Pître, Guadeloupe. Thierry Arpino appeared as drummer / percussionist and Aidan Carroll was on bass guitar, upright bass and vocals. They were all astonishing and the rapport between all the performers was palpable.
Ms Fischer began with a story about her Grandmother who always told of their part Cherokee heritage. This was finally laid to rest when Fischer took a DNA test to reveal Cameroon, British and a “whole lotta other good stuff” but nothing from the Americas. She reflected that whatever that proved, humanity is about being together in one space, on one earth, with shared love. A great reminder in our troubled times.
As the show moved on with ingenious and moving interpretations of songs from, among others, Sting, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and some Lisa Fischer originals I began to ponder the meaning of Cabaret and the Cabaret versus Concert argument. We were sitting in a packed Dunstan Playhouse, traditional theatre seating, with several token tables and chairs (and the requisite central candle) placed where the thrust would normally be. I see Cabaret as an intimate performance with a deliberate absence of that fourth wall so that the connection between performers and audience is close, real and immediate. The dictionary quotes that Cabaret is entertainment held in a nightclub or restaurant while audience eat or drink at tables. Wikipedia says it is a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song, dance, recitation, or drama. It is mainly distinguished by the performance venue, which might be a pub, a restaurant or a nightclub with a stage for performances.
Yes, in 2019 we can certainly formulate our own definitions and break rules; Yes a festival has to pack audience in to actually make money and pay fabulous performers. So, although I would say I attended a concert at the Cabaret Festival on June 7th, Ms Fischer, bless her spirit, changed that about halfway. There was never any doubt about the realness of her connection to the large audience but at that point she asked “are there any stairs around here?” I am sure the OH&S folks had an aneurysm at about this time, but Fischer preceded to climb down from the stage onto a chair, assisted by two audience members. She then continued her song (Fever) and ‘flirted’ with various attendees as we got a taste of her delightful, wicked persona. Getting back up was less easy but again with grace, Ms Fischer swung herself into a seated pose and eventually stood, safely, back on stage - singing with perfection the whole time.
Fischer’s voice ranges effortlessly from low, sultry growl to opera quality and everything in between. She tackles every musical genre and succeeds. Always. She and Grand Baton present interpretations of songs that fuse with flamenco, opera and Indian sounds - a kind of global jazz fusion. Simply unmissable.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.