REVIEW: The Songs of Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano

Once was not enough…

By Adam Tonking

Do you remember the musical revue? Not the latest incarnation where the greatest hits of a deceased or retired composer are swept together so the paying audience get to hear their favourites. I’m talking about an evening where a composer and lyricist team get to showcase their collection of stand-alone songs. Maltby and Shire come to mind. An evening with The Songs Of Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano was just like those glory days.

The Songs of Mckenzie-Spencer and Strano

And what’s glorious about this format is that each new song is its own story: a new character to meet, a new dilemma to be faced, and resolution in six or so minutes. This allows for the exploration of characters and situations that probably wouldn’t be sustainable over a longer work. And boy, did Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano explore some unchartered territory. From addiction to babies, to making incest work, to coping with discount airlines; the quirky situations seldom strayed from the continuing theme of overcoming obstacles. Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano just found them in places Maltby and Shire never dared.

And it was hilarious. Strano has a strong understanding of comedy in song, and Mackenzie-Spencer’s playful yet carefully crafted music elevates the bawdiest of joke to something golden. There were a few tender, more emotional moments, and the team were more than up to the task, to show that they are more than a comedy duo.

The cast were sublime. This was essentially a showcase for the brilliant creations of Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano, but I couldn’t leave without mentioning the cast. Rob Tripolino with his deft handling of incest, Andrew Broadbent with his gorgeous bass voice in “Weekend Getaway,” Stephanie Jones’ sweet awkwardness in “Sandwiches,” Mike McLeish selling the slow-burn story of “Crack Babies,” Keagan Vaskess – a last-minute replacement – who nearly stole the show with “Scientific View” a song about love as science fiction and “Still Waiting” about the expections of becoming an adult after reading Harry Potter, and finally Fem Belling who absolutely rocked the audience with “Kabaret,” a parody of the tropes of cabaret performance. I did feel like the cast could have used more time with the material, but I understand that a concert performance of new songs by new Australian writers would have limited resources to allow this. More’s the pity; the cast were more than capable, and the songs would have shone brighter.

Since this was a one-night only performance, and you won’t have the opportunity to see this show, I insist you take down the names of everyone involved and see everything that they do. Particularly Lochlan Mackenzie-Spencer and Andrew Strano, for there is a limited amount of support for original material for musicals in Australia. And they deserve the chance to become at least as famous as Maltby and Shire.

The Songs Of Mackenzie-Spencer And Strano played at Chapel Off Chapel on June 20th 2015 at 8pm. Since I’d normally give you details where to buy tickets, this time I thought I’d give you details to follow them. Twitter: MS&S (@MS_and_S) or Facebook: Mackenzie-Spencer & Strano