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The Marvellous Miz Demeanours (5 Dec 2014)

Perhaps musicians are like many writers and film makers in feeling apprehensive about returning to the scene of an earlier success. Will the next outing be as well received? Does our material still appeal to an audience who now know what to expect? Are we still fresh? Following their 2012 Merimbula show perhaps Lisa McClelland, Gaye Reid, Jill Walsh and Karen Strahan wondered how the Miz Demeanours would travel again. To follow their well-received 2013 appearance yet again might have stretched the friendship, they may have felt. Expectations were certainly high for the Marvellous Miz Demeanours when they returned this year. But these people are professionals. Whatever uncertainties Miz Giving, Miz Hap, Miz Conduct and Miz Chief may have felt, they showed none. From the opening notes of Bad Habits/Getting to be a Habit, they owned the stage. From the outset the appreciative audience knew we were in for an assured, lively evening of music, comedy and just plain good fun.

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Although the Miz Demeanours have only been together for about three years, it was clear that the four share a deep musical understanding built up over many years of working together in various contexts. They can draw on a reserve of shared experience, including time at the Canberra School of Music Jazz School, where three of the group met in their teacher and student roles. They have crafted a bouncy, cheeky show, full of tight harmony and impressive range, that took us on an extremely enjoyable musical journey.

The songs were chosen from a wide range of genres and eras. Early on we were treated to Duke Ellington (It Don’t Mean a Thing), the musical Chicago (All That Jazz), The Ink Spots (That Cat Is High) and Carol King’s Natural Woman. Then on we went, from Alberta Taylor’s Two Fisted, Double Jointed, Rough and Ready Man to James Taylor (How Sweet It Is), on a playful, energetic, vibrant journey. There were witty original numbers, including All I Have Is Me, from the 2013 musical Winging My Way To The Top, producedby Karen and Jill. Tempo changes were a feature, adding dynamic range to many of the songs. We went from tender, thoughtful and mellow to raunchy and robust. We sang along and we laughed a lot.

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Solos from each member, beginning with a soulful, powerful reading of This Is My Life from Gaye, showed their depth of talent. Jill took to the piano for Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries which also included a tap routine from Karen and which must have sent many audience members scampering fondly back into their childhood memories.

Clever use was made of costume and props, including boas, scarves and hats, all in the signature red and black, with more than an occasional sparkle. The stagecraft was tight and the banter clever.

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Underlying all this lay the substantial skills of Musical Director John Hill on piano and vocals, and drummer and percussionist Ben Schumann. Both have successful recording and performing careers in their own right, and from this show it’s easy to see why. John evoked Ray Charles in the vocals for Night Time is The Right Time, Hit The Road Jack and in the medley of train-related songs.Ben’s drum solo late in the evening was a highlight. On previous outings they’ve been included in the witty headline as Mister Fied and Mister Rected, but this time were given their own names. While this may have sacrificed a little of the show’s wit and whimsy, it did mean they receive well deserved acknowledgement.

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The Sapphire Club auditorium presents performers with its share of challenges. The cabaret-style table layout means that staff move around clearing glasses, and audience members feel free to stroll off to the bar, and even to have a chat (which it must be said did at times become distracting here). Their ability to hold a crowd captivated for the 30 or so songs in this show is a testament to the dynamism and energy of The Marvellous Miz Demeanours. Hopefully they won’t hesitate to come back in 2015, when they can be assured of another warm welcome.

[Review by Rick Sutton]