When Eddie Perfect answers the phone he croons a cheery “Hellooooo” down the line.
The multi-talented writer, composer and performer sits in his car, parked outside his Melbourne home, to take InReview’s call.
“My wife’s doing an important meeting at our dining room table and I’m loud,” Perfect laughs.
Perfect has a track record of working in strange places. He often finds himself wandering Melbourne’s parks at odd hours of the night – or very early morning.
“I do most of my meetings with America in parks. They’re at weird times at early hours of the morning so the house is asleep and I don’t want to walk around whispering my ideas.”
Gazing out his windscreen, Perfect remarks on the cold, dreary day in his hometown, but he perks up when he hears of the blue skies in Adelaide.
“Well, that sounds lovely. God, I’m looking forward to getting out there and enjoying some nicer weather.”
Perfect’s recent stint in the US is the topic of conversation for his latest show, Introspective, which is part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Last year’s lengthy lockdown period in Melbourne was the country’s worst, but Perfect used it productively.
As COVID-19 was in its early stages of spreading around the world, Perfect, his wife and their two children hopped on a plane bound for Australia, after two years living in New York.
Those years were spent creating the music for two Broadway shows – Beetlejuice and King Kong for the 2018/19 season.
Back in Melbourne, Eddie has been piecing together a patchwork of songs written during his time in New York, and songs written since returning home, reflecting on the experience.
“All of them have some connection to where I was at mentally, physically and spiritually while I was trying to write two Broadway musicals.”
A world away from the way the packed New York theatres, complete with choruses and special effects, Introspective is delicate and pared-back – an honest conversation with Eddie, his piano, a violinist and a cellist.
When he sits down to write, there’s usually a very specific reason. An opening number for a stage show perhaps. But as the world slowed and Perfect began crafting music and lyrics, the purpose was missing.
Rather than looking outwards to the next job, Perfect found himself turning inwards.
“I discovered something I hadn’t really considered before. When you write, you have one eye on the present and the other on where this song is going to go once it’s crafted.
“What show is it for? What context will it be heard in? That has a big effect on how you write a song. I didn’t know when I’d be able to do this show and that robs you of a lot of motivation and I found that really difficult.”
Because he’d spent so many months writing for characters, Perfect was out of practice writing for himself, but when he took some time to think about the songs that hadn’t made it into the musicals, he was surprised to discover there were similarities between the messages and his life.
“It’s a mysterious thing when you think you’re just writing a song for a musical and it’s for that character and it has nothing to do with you; it’s really just another person in another world, in another context.
“But if you have a little bit of time and space from it, a really interesting phenomenon emerges – at least it does for me – where I can see where I was at in my life and I can see how that has made its way into the song.”
Originally written for the character of Charles Deetz in Beetlejuice, A Little More of Your Time was intended as the opening number of act two, but never made it to the stage. The song reflects on how easy it is for time to slip away as a father, relinquishing the lion’s share of parenting to a partner and burying yourself in your work.
“At the time I wrote it, I was very much thinking it was going to illuminate something for this character of Charles. I wrote it while I was probably the busiest and probably seeing my kids the least I have in my life.
“I was writing two musicals, I was trapped in theatres the whole time and my kids were new to New York and experiencing it for the first time and I was so stressed that I wasn’t getting to spend time with them.”
I didn’t want it to be a disingenuous thing where I came back to Australia and I was doing victory laps.
While there are several songs written for characters in Perfect’s show, others are purely intended for his own voice, one of which was inspired by the birds of New York.
One of the sections in the show reflects on things not working out right and there were some tough moments in the Big Apple, but also moments of hope.
“I lived near Central Park and I would spend most days either visiting it or writing in it. In spring, this crazy thing happens where birds fledge out onto the sidewalks.
“They leave the nest and while they wait for their wings to develop, their parents feed them on the ground. They’re in the busiest metropolis you can imagine and it just blew my mind that birds would do that, that nature would adapt to something that has such a low survival rate.
“That made me think, this is New York, it is tough to survive here, but if birds are doing it, maybe I can do it too. I wanted to write a tribute to the fledglings of New York; it’s called The New York Starling.”
Perfect did a little more than survive in the big city. He received a nomination for best original score at the 2019 Tony Awards for Beetlejuice.
The feedback for King Kong wasn’t consistently quite so good. The Guardian’s headline for its review reads: “Broadway kills the beast in monstrously bad musical.”
His time in New York came with ups and downs, and Perfect isn’t afraid to admit it was a rollercoaster.
“I didn’t want it to be a disingenuous thing where I came back to Australia and I was doing victory laps, saying I was in New York and now I’m a brilliantly successful Broadway composer.
“I also didn’t want it to be, ‘I went to New York and it nearly destroyed me and it was depressing and terrible things happened’.
“It’s about both those things and I think, generally, that’s what life is for most people, so I wanted it to be real and I wanted to get the balance of it right so that people would generally understand that things can go wrong, but they don’t destroy you and you can recover.”
When visiting artists talk about their connection to Adelaide and their excitement to be here, it’s all very nice and polite, but with Perfect, it runs deeper.
As former co-artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Perfect really means it when he says he can’t wait to return.
“Adelaide Cabaret Festival is one that’s really important to me because I feel like it’s the longest continuous cultural conversation I’ve had about cabaret.
“It’s always been a place where you can check in with the form and be inspired and surprised and delighted, and just feel like you’re part of an ongoing conversation.
“I miss that conversation so I feel like, as with old friends, you can go a really long time then you can pick up the phone and you’re right back with the chat. I feel that way about Adelaide in a way that I don’t feel about other places I’ve performed.”
Introspective is at the Dunstan Playhouse on June 18 and 19.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.