HotHouse review: Stupendous, but with substance

A STANDING ovation capped the first night of HotHouse’s season opener The Fabulous Dame Farrar’s Dazzling Display of Stupendous Acts for the Stage on Tuesday.

Ostensibly this is the story of a fading vaudeville performer who sings on past her prime, sustained by memories of successes and fortified by alcohol.

Her songs point to her past and underscore her present in bittersweet fashion, so the storytelling becomes a potent marriage of musical and spoken elements.

The Dame is abetted by her ex-husband, clad in a low-cut evening gown and heels, and a young Chinese contortionist who serves as her dresser and foil for sarcastic comment.

This show is much more than the sum of its parts.

Carita Farrer Spencer is a consummate performer, able to parody the styles of Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross while working the audience with grace and skill.

Then there’s the virtuoso juggling and balancing prowess of Liu Jie, who amazingly balances on one hand while her limbs display impossible geometric shapes.

Stir in the astonishing musical support of John Rodgers as the angular cross-dresser, equally fluent as pianist, violinist or guitarist, and the show celebrates the art of ensemble as much as solo performance.

Best of all is the emotional layering. At one level we can relish the show as a joyous excursion into the glittering world of stage entertainment. Yet this is a sobering fantasy about the price of success.

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to see the Dame. Resonating theatrical experiences such as this don’t come around too often. The show runs until Saturday.

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