Eternity Playhouse, December 8
“Where,” Hayden Tee wondered aloud in the course of his cabaret show, “do the characters end, and you begin?” For many actors this might not be such an issue, but when one hits the stage performing as oneself after bouncing from role to role in musical theatre, it’s a question that must be confronted. The intriguing aspect of Tee’s Up Close and Intimate show was that we actually watched him doing the confronting in real time.
In the first half Tee sang songs as himself, and then later revisited some of his major roles. What was striking was just how much more compelling – and even at ease in his own skin – he was when in character. That first half only really rose above competent when he tore into the almost Brel-like manic swirl of Kander and Ebb’s I Don’t Care Much, radically raising the dramatic stakes, if still not quite nailing the song’s ultimate truth.
But once he was reassuming his characters in the second half, Tee did not just nail songs, he crucified them, beginning with the terrifying Molasses to Rum that Rutledge sings to justify the slave trade in the show 1776. Suddenly the whole potential of where Tee could take us exploded, because his acting allowed him to zero in on much deeper truths than were possible when traces of self-consciousness clung about him as himself.
You could hardly leap farther between characters in musical theatre than from Rutledge to Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, and suddenly Tee was at least as convincing delivering the withering comedy of Tim Minchin’s The Smell of Rebellion as he was the furious drama of Molasses to Rum. Beyond the quality of his acting, his tenor voice actually blazed more brightly in the service these other creatures.
For this one-off return to Sydney Tee was reunited with his long-time musical director and pianist Nigel Ubrihien, the pair’s rapport as complete as it was a decade ago. Most of the songs were further thickened and embellished by Karella Mitchell’s cello.