On a cold winter’s night, Paul Capsis enters the Famous Spiegeltent stage appropriately dressed in a fur coat (“It used to be a rug – I dyed it”), leather pants (“someone gave them to me when I was 19”) and a fur hat.
It’s classic Capsis and before he even opens his mouth you know you’re in for a quintessential – and very special – cabaret experience. The fact that he’s joined by talented composer and musician Jethro Woodward leading a four-piece band cutely dubbed The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra, one member of which plays both the tuba and double bass, only adds to the frisson.
The show opens with a scene-setting performance of Skyhooks’ “Ego is Not a Dirty Word” and proceeds on a twisty journey through an eclectic collection of songs re-arranged and re-imagined by Woodward, clearly with Capsis in mind.
A highlight is the entrancing take on Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, perfectly paced and suited to Capsis’s unique voice, with sublime accompaniment by Woodward on guitar. It is immediately followed by a gritty rendition of “Back in Black”, in which he seems to embody the angst and off-kilter delivery of the late Amy Winehouse.
“Ghost Rider (Motorcycle Hero)” brings a complete change of tempo as Capsis – having now ditched his fur to reveal a sparkly shirt and vest – unleashes his inner rock god, busting out dance moves and belting out lyrics like “America, America is killin’ its youth”.
It is with Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”, however, that the audience really seems to come on board, singing along with the chorus, and by the time he gets to Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” it feels like we could stay all night cocooned in this delicious Capsis bubble. Instead, we have to be content with an encore in which the lyrics of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” perfectly sum up the impact of the performance.
Capsis told InDaily in a pre-festival interview that he likes to perform his concerts in “freefall”, burying himself in the music and whatever emotions it triggers, and that’s exactly how it feels. If you let yourself fall with him, it’s a heavenly experience.
Paul Capsis with Jethro Woodward and the Fitzroy Youth Orchestra was presented at the Famous Spiegeltent on Friday night. See all InDaily’s Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.