A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Cha-Cha-Challenging times in Kings Cross in the '60s
The Australian premiere of Billy Loves Cha Cha Forever! is currently playing as part of Melbourne's Midsumma Festival. The play is written and directed by award-winning playwright Noel Anderson, whose previous written works include Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets (Melba Spiegeltent, Melbourne), Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and his play on the AIDS epidemic, Dark Victory (Playtime finalist Midsumma Festival 2016).
The play opens with the body of a man lying on the floor of a sparsely furnished apartment, a gun in his hand. Standing over him is the well-muscled figure of Louis (Luke Styles). Enter the tall, elegant Cha Cha (Samuel Thompson), a transgender dancer. Cha Cha takes in the scene at a glance, moves quickly around the room, then leaves without saying a word, despite an imploring 'Ain't you going to say anything?' from Louis.
From left: Louis (Luke Styles), Billy (Sebastiano Pitruzzello) and Cha Cha (Samuel Thompson)
The story then backtracks one year, and slowly (through the course of the play) loops back to the opening scene. Along the way, we meet the naive Billy (Sebastiano Pitruzzello). He turns up at Louis' apartment, prepared to service clients of Louis' in any way they want. Louis takes Billy along to the 'Boom Boom Room' - the setting is King's Cross in the 1960s. And there, Billy meets Cha Cha, and becomes obsessed. The attraction is mutual; perhaps the very experienced Cha Cha is dazzled by the very inexperienced Billy?
Samuel Thompson is a natural as Cha Cha. It feels like the role was written for him. It's an extraordinary performance, and the play simply would not work without a strong and convincing Cha Cha. Thompson carries the glamorous and beautiful 'exotic dancer' role to perfection, but equally, maintains the hard-edged, self-preserving persona that seems to capture the essence of Cha Cha.
Samuel Thompson as Cha Cha - extraordinary performance
Sebastiano Pitruzzello as Billy will not be a name known to readers, as he graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Acting for Stage and Screen, and this is his first post-graduate stage performance. His relative lack of stage experience is not apparent in his performance - quite the contrary. He brings a freshness to the role which gives life to the character of Billy.
In one sense, the role of Louis is the most difficult to play. He transforms into the villain, an unlikeable character. His role is pivotal to the play, yet he can't dominate. Luke Styles as Louis treads that fine line in a masterful way.
Luke Styles as Louis - masterful
This play gave me goosebumps in sections. The stronger second act was completely engaging, transporting me to another time and place. Billy Loves Cha Cha is a statement piece that so succinctly captures an era. 1960s King's Cross had the likes of Abe Saffron and Carlotta roaming the streets. That underlying sense of danger is the essence of Billy Loves Cha Cha. I could point to other Australian iconic Zeitgeist writings - like Summer of the Seventeenth Doll - and you'll get a sense of what I'm saying.
The wide-eyed na´vetÚ of Billy reminds me of David Meredith in My Brother Jack.
Billy (Sebastiano Pitruzzello) - wide eyed na´vetÚ
If I can mention Billy Loves Cha Cha in the same breath as Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and My Brother Jack, you would have to realise it's something special. It's unashamedly Australian in the same way as those iconic pieces.
Overlay that with talented and well cast actors, and it lifts the production to another level.
The soundtrack features original music by Daniel Abineri, who played Frank-N-Furter over 3000 times in the Rocky Horror stage play.
After the show, I had a long chat with writer and director Noel Anderson. He admitted the script for Billy Loves Cha Cha had been sitting in a drawer for 10 years before he dusted it off for the Cracked Actors Theatre. "A friend who wore drag asked me to write it 10 years ago, but it hasn't previously been staged. It felt like now was the right time for it. Australian content and stories have never been more important, especially in this COVID era."
More than anything, Anderson did not want Billy Loves Cha Cha to simply be labelled "a gay play". "It's a classic thriller," he said. "It taps into an era, and focuses on ordinary people who do extraordinary things."
Billy Loves Cha Cha Forever! continues until 5 May at the Cracked Actors Theatre (CAT), Power House on the Lake, Level 1, 34 Lakeside Drive, Albert Park. Session times are Tuesday - Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday and Sunday, 2.30 and 5.30pm.
Tickets are $29 - $39. Click here to buy tickets online (tickets also available at the door).
The running time is 120 minutes (includes a 15 minute interval).
Warnings: violence, coarse language, reference to drug use, sexual references.