Reviews, Stage

Trevor Ashley in Barbra and Me review (Ensemble, Sydney)

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It may surprise you to learn that Sydney cabaret and drag star Trevor Ashley has a lot in common with global music and film superstar Barbra Streisand. She’s worth several hundred million dollars, is an EGOT winner, and sells out big, expensive arena tours every few years. Ashley’s success is a little more modest, even though he’s sold out a solo show at the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall.

But through Ashley’s new cabaret show, Barbra and Me, the audience learns that the pair share more than you’d expect. Well, sort of.

While she started her career in swanky nightclubs, Ashley started his in less illustrious establishments. But they were both nightclubs!

Unlike most of Ashley’s tribute shows — including his unforgettable takes on Liza Minnelli and Shirley Bassey — Barbra and Me involves very little impersonation. In fact, it’s not until the halfway point that Ashley even gives a hint of Streisand’s signature swaying, ethereal mannerisms, and caressed, warped vowels.

Ashley has sensibly decided to perform this show as himself, out of drag — or “Trevor untucked” as he announces to the audience. Although they might have some things in common, Ashley’s brassy and sometimes raspy vocals don’t bear much similarity to Streisand’s.

Over the course of the cabaret, Ashley tracks the rise of both his own career and the career of the artist to whom he’s paying tribute. He also explains the appeal of Barbra, and how she provides artistic and personal inspiration.

Ashley has bucketloads of charisma, and is able to make some wonderfully bawdy material work in front of almost any audience. The crowd at this particular performance skewed a little bit older than what I’ve generally seen at his shows, but they ate up his gags (although a patron next to me had to be informed that Grindr is a “dating app”).

Barbra and Me is a fairly straight-down-the-line cabaret show, mixing anecdotes about Ashley and Streisand with performances of the diva’s biggest hits thrown in. Ashley is accompanied by ‘Miss’ Bev Kennedy on piano, and the duo have a strong musical rapport.

The show becomes genuinely electric when Ashley digs deep into a number like People or Don’t Rain on My Parade. While his middle register is particularly rough, he still has a belt that can shake the rafters as good as any diva around.

[box]Barbra and Me is at the Ensemble Theatre, Sydney until October 15[/box]

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