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California Crooners Club - Brisbane Festival

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Nobody goes to sleep when they're on

If you saw them two years ago (and about 30% of the audience had), you would have known that what you were about to get was not Frank Sinatra - Michael Bublé set-piece crooning.

Unscripted, anarchic, somewhat disorganised rat-pack irreverence certainly, as the foursome checked with the band what they were singing next, once they actually turned up, half an hour after the advertised time, and with multi Silver Logie winner Hugh Sheridan showing signs of having dined not wisely but well.

But soon after a somewhat shaky start, all was forgotten and forgiven.

The cast had changed.

Hugh Sheridan was still there, as the organiser and head honcho of the group. South African Emile Welman had also returned. The two newcomers were America's Got Talent Gold Buzzer winner Johnny Manuel and diva Maiya Sykes.

Which leads me to my gripe. If you have seen and heard Manuel on America's Got Talent, you know that he has a vocal range and capacity for selling a song that few singers can match. He is under-used in the California Crooners Club. His version of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" would have raised the show to a whole new level.

That said, he did show flashes of that talent, and at times the four did bring the audience to their feet with the brilliance of their close harmonies. Maiya is a stage presence – both in her huge soulful voice and in the way that she took no prisoners when confronted by a somewhat inebriated heckler.

The Spiegeltent felt crowded and the crooners spent almost as much of their time in and around the audience as they did on stage.

They can sing, and ring the changes with their choices – "The Lady is a Tramp" and "Under My Skin" were stand-outs, as was Manuel's rap version of "Midnight Train to Georgia".

There was a tribute to James Arthur and songs by Adele and Beyonce led us to a conga line weaving through the tent.

There may have been rough edges to the show, but mostly the punters got what they came for - spectacle, entertainment, rhythm and song with cabaret-style engagement, and a sense that almost anything could happen next.

Your aged reviewer had the sense that when the California Crooners Club come back (hopefully next year) most of this year's audience will be rushing to buy tickets.
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Why? A unique opportunity
When: 8-16 September
Where: Speigeltent : QPAC
Cost: $60 - $69
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