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Hilary Cole, O.C.Diva review (Hayes Theatre, Sydney)


Hilary Cole can solve the Rubik’s Cube in a minute flat. But that’s not her biggest claim to fame. For one so young, she’s already made quite a name for herself in musical theatre in Squabbalogic musicals including Carrie and The Drowsy Chaperone. This is her debut solo show, a classic cabaret, in which she steers us through he obsessions (hence the show’s name). These include a penchant for opening a new bottle of water every time she needs to hydrate. As you do. She also confesses a Lord of The Rings thing, reeling off characters’ names like much-loved siblings. Her professional obsession seems to have been with Bernadette Peters, which is entirely understandable and part of her shtick is to mercilessly mimic the peerless one’s more eccentric vocal characteristics: she caricatures with such exaggeration, one wonders if she loves, hates or envies her; perhaps, all three.

Beyond these contrivances, the concept and material is a little thin and she sometimes rushed through patter. Nerves, probably: this was opening night. In my review of her turn in The Drowsy Chaperone in March, I described Cole as the proverbial triple threat, with a rich and powerful voice. On this evening, though, her acting skills well-and-truly outshone the vocal ones, although I suspect this was more down to an inept mix than anything else. Like too many young graduates (in her case, from a Ballarat college), there’s a certain thin, brittle, featureless, “pop” timbre evident in too much of her delivery: to borrow an observation from my partner, “one wants to hear red wine” and this was no full-bodied shiraz, but a pinot grigio. Experience, seasoning and “cellaring” is probably the answer.

Regardless, Cole, with excellent (if sometimes overbearing, thanks again to that mix) arrangements, musical direction and vocal and theatrical support from Stephen Kreamer, works her way through a diverse and interesting selection of songs, interpolated quite seamlessly.

From The Book of Mormon, comes the narcissistic anthem, You and Me (But Mostly Me), a witty opening. Then to a more serious musical: Into The Woods and the poignant and reassuring ballad No One Is Alone, a song Peters has made very much her own. At both ends of the comedic-dramatic spectrum, Cole is adept at bringing out the lyric: her phrasing and interpretive gifts impress.

Keeping things contemporary is Georgia Stitt’s The Wanting Of You (lyrics by Marcy Heisler), with its percussive, urban piano riff. A u-turn is an excellent version of Blondie’s One Way Or Another..

Sondheim makes a welcome return, with Being Alive. It’s hard to believe this song is 44 years old. Cole and Kreamer apparently know and love their Sondheim, as well they should, embarking on a medley of Colour And Light, You Could Drive A Person Crazy and the immortal Losing My Mind. I was waiting for a tear to roll down a cheek — Cole’s, mine, anybody’s — but we didn’t quite get there.

Another zig was Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy butted-up with Beyonce’s Crazy In Love. Again, these were brave and inspired selections and they worked seamlessly. Cole and Kreamer most assuredly have a keen sense of what’s possible; a programmatic sensibility that transcends predictable.

From the early 00s all the way back to Showboat’s charming, disarming Bill, among the most humble, direct and unaffected of love songs. And, finally, in another sideways segue, to Pink’s Glitter In The Air. This, too, stands up against even the best show tunes.

With (much) better sound, as well as a little more rehearsal and polish, this could be quite a show. The musical material is first-rate, even if the patter that joins it up, true or not, doesn’t quite have the ring of confidence or sincerity that makes the difference between an also-ran cabaret and one that lingers in the mind and becomes something of a legend.

O.C.Diva is at the Hayes Theatre on 22 and 29 June.


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