Melbourne Fringe 2016

Mama Alto: Extravaganza, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 25 September 2016

Words by Tom Taylor

Mama Alto is finishing her Extravaganza. She is part way through one of her last songs when she stops. She is standing among the audience in the Ballroom at the Lithuanian Club and she is asking us how we want the song to end. She can do a “big, small, big” or a “small, big, small”, and as she looks around the audience yells for one or the other. “Hold on,” she says, “you should know by now that I do not deal in binaries.”

Mama Alto is a force. She moves around as if she were gliding, she moves between notes as if she were gliding and she moves from song to speaking and back again as if she were (you get it). She is cheeky with her audience and with her accompanist and music director Miss Chief, on the piano.

I do not know my jazz but I recognise a number of the songs and names – Nat King Cole, Summertime, Billie Holiday. Mama leans into each song with a story, locating these songs and locating her way to them. She talks about performing in Cuba, former Fringe shows and grande divas of the stage. Her work, her music and her identity are political, but also beautiful, generous, gentle. A man, drunk, yells out in one of her songs. She finds him after the song, takes his hand and tries to make a pact – if he is quiet during the show, they can chat after in the bar. “Maybe,” he says. She glides back to the stage. Later, after he is removed, she says that she feels bad that he should miss out. “Bring him back,” she says, “I’ll just have to work harder.”

“This show is not scripted,” she promises us, and true, every now and then slight cracks appear. She builds up to launch into a new tune only for Miss Chief to lean over to clarify which song she meant by her segue. But just as soon as the crack has appeared, Mama Alto is there with crack filler. She and we revel in these moments where she makes cracks of cracks.

After the penultimate song – the crowd went for “big, small, big” – she ends on a flat number. It is the only song for the night that is anything but holy. But it is too late, the audience is charmed. Mama Alto has knocked us out and so a stray punch to end matters little.

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