If the Adelaide Cabaret Festival is the time for a spontaneous night out, opening night surely delivered that. With State Opera’s How to Kill Your Husband sadly torpedoed due to one of the cast catching COVID, it was an easy decision to duck into the Banquet Room and instead see Simply Brill – The Women Who Defined Rock ‘N’ Roll, a show devised by Adelaide cabaret artists Amelia Ryan, Michaela Burger and Michael Griffiths.
This was a preview performance with some funny unscripted moments when the team forgot some of their lines, so if you do decide to see it, no doubt you will be in for a smoother-running show. But for sheer spontaneity, this was a winner – all three performers kept things bubbling along with wonderful ad-libbing skills. I wouldn’t want them to change any of it.
The Brill Building, in case we need reminding, is an actual physical address on Broadway where the likes of Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Ellie Greenwich and a dozen others churned out numerous hits in the early 1960s. In Simply Brill, we get to hear the full story plus a generous helping of the songs themselves.
Ryan and Burger share the female roles, giving a heart-throbbing rendition of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Goffin and King) and duetting nicely in the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” (Greenwich). Meanwhile, Griffiths takes duties at the piano but sings in some spots as well, doing a fine job of Neil Sedaka’s snarly vocals in “Stupid Cupid”.
The show’s theme is how women gained first of all a toe-hold, then a foothold, and ultimately a major stake in what was then – and still remains – a male-dominated music industry. Between numbers, each singer sits out to “reminisce” how this happened by taking on personas of the Brill Building’s movers and shakers. This is a nice touch. First we have Griffiths flopping back on a 1960s armchair as Don Kirshner, describing how he took on the young Bobby Darin and the even younger Sedaka – who was so young at the time, we hear, that his mum had to sign up for him.
Ryan and Burger take turns speaking as Carole King and Cynthia Weil. It all adds interesting texture, and one comes out having learned a healthy slice of pop music history. But the performances are what matters, and there are thumping good versions of “On Broadway” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (Barry Mann and Weil), plus medleys of lots of other familiar hits from the era. There are snappy performances in quick succession of “The Loco-Motion”, “Blame It on the Bossa Nova”, “Calendar Girl” and “Take Good Care of My Baby”.
A solid team of musicians provide reliable backing, especially the drummer Kyrie Anderson – she is faultless at placing beat. A few more guitar and sax solos would not go astray, but in all respects it is a polished show.
Hats off to them the artists, especially to Ryan as writer. They exhibit great team spirit when they save each other from dropped lines, which happened a few times to hilarious effect, but this only added to the evening.
Simply Brill is really likeable and definitely worth seeing.
Simply Brill – The Women Who Defined Rock ‘N’ Roll is being performed again in the Banquet Room at the Adelaide Festival Centre on June 11 as part of the 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
See all InReview’s coverage of the 2022 Cabaret Festival here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.