Transporting the audience to a smoky, atmospheric jazz club, supremely talented young performer Tim Draxl channels the great jazz musician Chet Baker in this briskly entertaining tribute concert.
Returning to the Melbourne stage after more than a decade, Draxl demonstrates why his presence has been missed. Suave and in control, he has the audience in a spell as he alternates with natural ease between song and spoken word. A clever feature of the text, written by Bryce Hallett and Draxl, is that it features both Draxl as himself discussing Baker as well as including selected moments where Draxl speaks, in ghostly blue light, as Baker.
The dramatic elements of Baker’s life are mentioned to provide background, motivation and context for the music without being unnecessarily sensationalized. Generally told in chronological order, the narrative paints a picture of a tortured artist’s soul rather than attempting to fill in all the details of a complex and troubled life.
Just as Rhonda Burchmore found a wonderful match for her singing voice in the recent production Cry Me A River, so too has Draxl found a superb source of musical inspiration to suit his considerable singing talents. His expressive, haunting voice seems to float out of his body, touching the audience with a melancholy passion and longing.
While it is difficult to mention song titles without the benefit of a printed program or a website, highlights included the Gershwins’ “But Not For Me,” and the completely re-invented Rodgers & Hart classic “My Funny Valentine,” a recording of which is also played briefly late in the show and demonstrates just how close the voices of the two artists are.
Paramount to the experience of the show is the presence of four experienced jazz musicians. Exuding laidback cool in black suits and skinny black ties, the musicians create an aural soundscape that is rarely heard outside the hottest jazz clubs.
While the overall show would be better suited to a licensed cabaret venue, the Fairfax Studio at least creates a feeling of intimacy between performer and audience. The lighting design enhances the setting, although a front light, positioned to cast a giant silhouette of Draxl on the rear wall, unfortunately creates a large black shadow of the microphone over much of his face. Perhaps this will be adjusted as the season progresses.
Freeway- The Chet Baker Journey plays at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until 20 October 2012.
Photos: Gavin D Andrew
This review published on Theatre People 17 October 2012.