Combine the quirky wit of Lemony Snicket (author of the hilarious Series of Unfortunate Events) with the unusual talent of Nathaniel Stookey (who once composed a piece of classical music for 30 instruments made out of refuse) and you’re bound to get a children’s show worth dropping your knitting for.
Add in the affable wit and slapsticky style of comedian Frank Woodley and you and your youngsters are guaranteed top-class entertainment.
The Composer is Dead uses the murder-mystery genre to deliver a who’s who of the orchestra pit.
Like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Snicket intended the script to be narrated while the orchestra performed. Woodley takes the narrative role a step further, acting out the part of The Inspector who is tasked with questioning the different sections of the orchestra in order to solve the crime.
Like the crazy lovechild of Inspector Clouseau and John Cleese, Woodley leaps and contorts his way around the stage, his priceless characterisations of the different instruments bringing the script to life in a way that even Snicket could not have imagined.
Woodley’s whiny violas, in particular, leave the audience crying with laughter, and although acting out the narrative part has The Inspector awkwardly referring to himself in third person, Woodley manages to carry it off with physical exuberance and oodles of charm.
His partners in crime, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, performs its role beautifully under the careful guidance of conductor Brett Kelly, who joins in the antics with good-natured aplomb.
It’s not a long show; it’s billed as 50 minutes but the meat of the performance is more like 30, sandwiched between a very funny stand-up set from Woodley at the beginning (in this case a Star Wars riff on the idea that the interior design of the Adelaide Festival Theatre has a Millennium Falcon vibe) and some paper-bag antics with the audience at the end. Still, it’s probably about right for the mid-primary age range it’s aimed at and, given that kids are more likely to be listening to Taylor Swift than Tchaikovsky, what better way of introducing them to the joys of live orchestral music?
The Composer is Dead was a one-off performance in the Festival Theatre as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which continues until June 25.
See all InDaily’s Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.