It could be considered that putting four Australian musical theatre leading men on one stage with an 18-piece band – four good looking and somewhat naturally cheeky leading men – could only lead to trouble. But it would be trouble of the best and most entertaining kind, of course. Michael Falzon (We Will Rock You, Hedwig And The Angry Inch), Matt Lee (So You Think You Can Dance, Mary Poppins, Miss Saigon), Luke Kennedy (The Voice, The Ten Tenors) and Ben Mingay (Packed To The Rafters, An Officer And A Gentleman, Jersey Boys) have teamed up with the Adelaide Art Orchestra to give Adelaide Cabaret Festival audiences a night of new swing and well-swung songs that may well be remembered for a long time.
The Clothesline speaks with a pleasantly jovial Michael Falzon about the world premier of Swing On This.
“I’ve been to the Cabaret Festival many times,” he begins, “and every year since Kate Ceberano became Artistic Director she has asked me to put a show together. It’s always been a scheduling thing, due to other work commitments, but finally we have done it! We’ve worked hard to create something so that we can actually be there and performing for my first time!
“Last year I attended the Opening Night Variety Gala Performance, saw Shane Warne The Musical and crammed a whole lot of shows in while I was there,” Falzon recalls. “The atmosphere is always electric; I love the outdoor café environment and Kate even got me to sing a couple of swing numbers at the Backstage Club – which was probably a bit of an omen for this show [chuckles].”
Did you create Swing On This specifically for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival?
“Yes. It’s been in development for a couple of years actually but overseas commitments have made it hard to get it together and to find the right line-up,” he replies. “What I wanted for this was four leading men – four mates (difficult as it is to find four singers that are all available at the same time) – up on stage; ones that I would not necessarily get to perform with in normal circumstances. It’s rare that you get to perform with one other contemporary, but to have four of us there, it’s going to be a lot of bloody fun!”
You are each musical theatre performers or actors. Have you previously performed with any of the others?
“Matt Lee and I have performed in the same concert and ten years ago we were both in We Will Rock You, but that’s as close as it gets,” Falzon laments. “So this will be the first time we’ll be singing together as a duo; the same goes with Ben Mingay and Luke Kennedy. Both of those lads have earned warranted recognition as their voices are amazing. So I was very excited to find three other guys that could all get on stage and have a great time together.
“We want to try some different things; do some harmony work – the kind that you wouldn’t normally expect from this style of show,” he adds. “Everyone’s got a feature – their own little moment to shine and then rest of the time we just stand at the bar and take the piss out of each other. We share the stage for the entire show, singing and joking around.”
Does that make you The Brat Pack?
“I don’t think it makes us anything other than four Aussie leading men on stage taking the piss out of each other,” Falzon laughs loudly. “I don’t know if we have a name for what we do yet but that’s where Swing On This kind of came from; the title is cheeky, the show is cheeky, we’re all a little bit cheeky – so we wanted a name that would reflect our personalities on stage; a bit of a twinkle in the eye, tongue in cheek and the obvious swing element in there as well.”
With each of you having a musical theatre background, how will you be presenting this show? Will you just sings songs, tell stories, have costume changes…?
“Most of us have performed more concert material of late, as well as Matt Lee doing a lot of TV and choreography work, so we’ve all got different ideas for what we want to bring to the this show,” he suggests.” But, for me, when putting this all together is for each of us to be ourselves and have fun with our mates on stage. While we’ll have an idea of what we’re going to be saying and doing, the fun of it will be us being ourselves. It’s not a tribute show but it is four leading men on stage having a laugh.”
How did you decide upon the songs in the show?
“With the help of our London-based arranger, Richard Sidwell – who I worked with on the Queen Symphonic Spectacular earlier this year – we’ve taken a more contemporary bend to swing; a little Michael Bublé/Robbie Williams-type of feel. Then we started looking at some more modern songs that we could swing which has been done from time to time. I’ve tried to take that a little further with a couple of songs, so there is a surprise or two in store.
“I don’t want to tell you too much but, certainly, you’ve got four Australians on stage so we thought of four ‘Australians’ that we might be able to swing a song or two that people might know,” Falzon suggests, trying to say more without actually giving anything away. “It’s been a lot of fun working it all out.
“Of course, people are going to get what they want to hear when they come to the show,” he adds, “except, in some circumstances, you might get four big voices instead of a solo – which will hopefully be a bit goosebumpy for everyone.”
You mentioned doing your own versions of some well known tunes. One of the most covered songs of late has been Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball. Will you guys also be taking that on?
“Like I said, there will be some surprises in there, but I can tell you for certain that Wrecking Ball will not be one of them,” Falzon laughs. “There will be no Miley Cyrus in this show!”
No bumping, grinding or twerking either?
“Oh, there will be bumping and grinding alright” he says, still laughing, “just no Miley Cyrus!”
Michael Falzon really wants to tell us who the special guests are that will be appearing in the show, but just can’t bring himself to do it. Although he does jest that they are worthy or being written in italics to emphasise how fabulous they will be!
“It’s a secret! I’ve said too much already,” Falzon whispers. “I’ve already told you there won’t be any Miley Cyrus! No one’s supposed to know!”
Composing ourselves from yet another bout of tear-inducing laughter, we ask Falzon to share the ratio of classic to modern swing tunes.
“There’s something for everybody, and it definitely does favour the traditional swing era; anything right back to the ‘50s, through to the ‘90s with Harry Connick Jr. and up to today,” he suggests. “Swing is constantly being reinvented so the songs that everybody knows will be in there. We are doing two sets on the Festival Theatre Stage so we’ve got plenty of time to have some fun with the old stuff – maybe with a bit of a tweak here and there…”
Is that a tweak or a twerk?
“No twerking!” he chuckles, “…but there will a few modern swings songs as well. It’s about finding that balance, and that’s been half the fun. Between everyone involved we’ve been able to come up with what’s definitely a traditional – yet contemporary – bent on the swing thing.”
Falzon tells us that the nature of this show means that if a line-up needs to change due to other work commitments, it can easily do so with a smooth transition.
“Because we are all friends, it’s really just a matter of asking someone else if they can do a performance when you can’t. Audiences will always know who they’re going to get on any given night, but it may just differ from city to city.”
Is there anything you’d like to say?
“Just that we’re really looking forward to being there,” he concludes, “and that Adelaide audiences are going to be the first people in the world to see this show. We’re doing two sets but only the one concert, so afterwards we’re free to enjoy a drink or two with everyone.”
Swing On This performs at Festival Theatre Stage from 7.30pm on Sat Jun 7 [includes interval].