Downstairs at the Maj is a wonderfully intimate venue that is perfect for the sort of cabaret stylings performer Andrew Strano presents. Highly personable and engaging, his tales and songs (written with Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer) about relationships, Harry Potter, and the vagaries of air travel are like having a conversation in your lounge room with a good friend; the kind of friend who occasionally bursts into song. Oh, and wears a sparkly jacket that would make Liberace envious.
The relaxed, conversational air was given added weight by the presence of his Aunty seated in prime position near the stage. Her smile throughout the show was as warm as her nephew’s casual banter. In Mackenzie-Spencer’s absence Strano was accompanied by Rainer Pollard on piano. His playing was quite marvellous and the two were in impressive sync after only three rehearsals.
Strano has a fine voice and the songs were examinations of relationships and love, most with a quirky twist and an explanatory introduction. The subject matter is instantly relatable and presented in relaxed fashion with plenty of eye contact and casual interaction that draws you in and, well, makes you feel right at home.
The best of the songs was an exploration of what happens when you ignore that warning light on the dash of your car. This, of course, was a metaphor for the care and attention it takes to maintain a relationship, a fact that perhaps didn’t need to be overtly stated at the end. Babies, flowers and twin sisters also form the basis for songs with Kristen Stewart given pride of place in a plea about difficult breakups.
The hassle of air travel and waiting around in airports for delayed flights was a negative turned into a positive. Those shared experiences with a partner can strengthen a relationship even though they can be stressful at the time. Cleverly, the songs describe such universal situations that the name of, for example, any low budget airline can be changed to fit the country of performance. Laker Airlines became Tiger Air; Frankston became Northbridge for another song and, after audience suggestions, the Armadale railway line proved the perfect substitute in the love letter to Harry Potter and Hogwarts.
An unexpected amusing moment came after a riff about unemotional Germans. A stereotype that was refuted by, you guessed it, an audience member from Germany. It’s testament to the convivial atmosphere Strano created that no lasting offence was caused as he charmed his way out of potential trouble.
Charming he was and this was a most pleasant hour to start the cabaret season at His Majesty’s. The final performance is on Saturday 28th at 7.30pm Downstairs at the Maj.