They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, especially when it comes to the entertainment business. But when Christa Hughes takes it upon herself to emulate a bevy of washed-up Hollywood divas, the imitation is caught somewhere between sincere flattery and surreal piss-take. Indeed her impersonations are so over-the-top, she has audiences almost rolling out of their seats in stitches.
Where Hughes is renowned as a serious jazz and classical singer, she can also deliver a certain brand of camp cabaret brilliantly. In her latest production, Neurotic Ladyland, Hughes takes on the personae of some of the most famous leading ladies in American cinema. These include Bette Davis’ Baby Jane Hudson, Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard), and Faye Dunaway’s insane take on Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.
Cleverly incorporating soundbytes from some of the aforementioned films, what Hughes in effect presents is a top-class drag act, if you will. Only instead of a man imitating women, this is genuine female oestrogen in overdrive – the makeup twice as caked, the shrills twice as high.
The show opens with Christa singing a ’20-style ditty into a megaphone, while her drummer adds percussion effects that lend a crackling gramophone aesthetic to the tune. It throws the audience right into the dark recesses of retromania; eerie and enlightening all at once.
There are other tricks Christa reveals that make this kind of cabaret stand-out and unique, one of which is singing the lyrics of a classic rock song (Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life) to the melody of some classic cabaret (Liza Minelli’s Mein Herr, from the musical Cabaret, in fact). As if this esoteric exercise isn’t enough to tease the minds of her audience, the music of the former song are then paired with the lyrics of the latter so that the listener is left wondering whether the seeds of the concept of the ‘mashup’ were actually sowed decades ago.
This is cabaret at its most prolific and profound, even if on the surface it all seems absurd. Indeed, His Majesty’s Theatre’s calendar for this season’s Cabaret Soirée couldn’t have have been kicked off with a more promising production. See it if it’s not sold out!
The last night of Neurotic Ladyland is tonight, Saturday 17 August, from 6.30pm at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. Tickets are available through www.ticketek.com.au or by phoning 1300 795 012.
For the full Cabaret Soirée calendar, visit www.hismajestystheatre.com.au.