Dusty May Taylor
Deni$ sported a horrific 90s-inspired leopard print dress and hot pink pumps. Tyla wore a tracksuit. It was like watching a deranged Baby Spice sashay around the stage with a sloppy Kiwi Missy Elliott. This show is genuinely funny, and the original songs are impressively well-produced. The lyrics are dreadful in an amusing way, but I definitely felt like I spent the evening listening to legit pop tunes from the 90s, with some more current tracks towards the end. Musical Director Adrian Hooke and musician Oswell Didsbury are much to be congratulated for this accomplishment. When I interviewed Horan and McGill a few weeks ago they told me the songs were sick, and they were right. Kate McGill does a surprisingly passable job as a rapper, and Frith Horan has some solid pipes. You go girl.
Another strength of the show is its emerging dance talent taken from a selection of Welly and Auckland youth. The choreography was sometimes hilarious and sometimes well executed. It was disturbing for this reviewer to watch teenagers placed in choreography that sexualized, but that in itself is an accurate commentary on pop culture. Some of the dancers looked extremely young. Would older dancers be more appropriate? Their youth was woven into the plot, however, and there was a lovely theme of mentorship and community involvement thrown in for good measure. The depiction of a loving, secure artist pouring into the next generation with no resentment or fear of being surpassed was a nice touch. The world needs more of that.
Still, I found myself constantly questioning whether the goal was to spoof and criticize the pop industry or pay homage to it. One would be satire while the other would more or less be the tip of a hat. Those who approach the show from a place of enjoying pop culture and taking it lightly will more or less find themselves entertained and impressed by the skill of emerging dance talent, great music, and a lot of laughs. Those who tend to be personally mortified by the materialistic and hyper-sexualized pop world could find themselves unsettled or simply a wee bit saddened.
To be honest, as a snooty-pants writer with little to no love for pop culture, I was prepared to wince throughout the entirety of the show, but couldn’t help but be charmed by the earnest undertone’s of Tyla’s outburst in the very first scene: “I am a wordsmith!” This coming from an absurdly bad rapper, of course. The sincerity of Kate McGill’s performance is both impressive and hopelessly lovable. Her acting chops and comedic timing were a consistent high point for me. She demonstrated an excellent ability to be fully present, and as a result held our attention while speaking or silent. Her strength carried the show.
This is not to diminish the strength of Horan as Deni$, whose character development throughout created a challenge for the performer. How do you connect with an audience as an actor, when the character you are playing is the very picture of an emotionally shut down Hollywood-made narcissist? In her character we see harsh criticism of the price of fame and fortune. She played a jacked-up diva very well. Still, is it possible for the audience of Album Party to be given an earlier moment in the show to connect with Deni$, even though the story demands that the character be disconnected until the end? This is a question I think would be useful to explore both in the portrayal of the character and in the writing. There was one bit of backstory revealed early in the show that could have made me care about Deni$, but it wasn’t enough.
I also struggled to believe the relationship between Tyla and Deni$. I understand the story of two best friends coming together for a “Redempshun Tour” after a long separation, but as a viewer I still needed to see the connection from the start in order to fully buy into it. How can the audience feel connected to Deni$ from the start, and believe the connection between she and Tyla? That is the challenge I most wanted to leave with the writers and performers.
At the end of the day, Album Party is just that: a party. Loud music, bright lights, dancers, smoke machines...and a lot of laughs and costume changes. The aim was to bring a pop concert to the theatre, and in this I believe they succeeded. At the end we were immersed in a final number that is easily the best sounding song of the show, though perhaps not the catchiest. (“Gas-In-My-Ass-o-Line"...I can never unhear that.) I would heartily recommend this show to anyone who likes the pop scene and enjoys a little bit of crass humour. It’s well done, the music is great, and the team at BATS were great on tech and as hosts. You’ve only got Friday the 16th and Saturday the 17th to catch this run of The Better Best Possible Album Party That Anyone Has Ever Been Two on the Propeller Stage at BATS, so don’t miss it!