The sun is setting outside as I enter the Roxy Cinema for my first audience experience at the newly developed Roxy Live. Hidden behind red velvet curtains is a lavish new cabaret venue complete with Art Deco light fittings and a stage lit in dreamy reds and blues. At the rear of the stage sits The Captain (Matt Hutton) adorned with a sailor hat, playing gentle, jazzy goodness on a keyboard. Tables are laden with cocktails, and warm meals are on their way. A spotlight appears stage left, and Eleanor Spitz (Liz Butler) and Barney Crumple (Ben Jardine) announce themselves onstage ‘all the way from Hollywood Florida’.
The sequin dress and white suit-wearing duo introduce what is to be a ‘greatest hits’ performance. They ask the audience for song titles from across their long (50+ years) careers and then magically morph the suggestions into music with Spitz on lead vocals and Crumple on guitar and backing. Tonight’s show features starfish, seahorses and love-making in a broom closet. Cleverly, there is some variation built into the format of the show, which is no surprise under the direction of NZ improv legend Jen O’Sullivan. The smooth jazz is broken up by the pair’s failed bond theme, a dance break and one song from when we went through ‘a bit of a new wave phase’. These tunes break up the rhythm of lounge sound and keep the audience giggling and engaged throughout.
Butler’s voice is rich and smooth and ably accompanied by Jardine’s dulcet baritone. She brings a self-loving sensuality to Eleanor Spitz that Barbara Streisand herself would be proud of. All the while, Jardine’s Crumple holds a gentle innocence and gives the show a nudge forwards whenever his counterpart begins to indulge. Their dynamic is delicious and absolutely nails the lounge-singer genre. They are totally connected and treat one another with utter respect and admiration, displaying the kind of active listening most improvisers dream of achieving. I could watch these two simply sit in an empty room and I would feel privileged to be there.
Spitz and Crumple isn’t a show that aims to change the world or make some grand societal point – or to push the boundaries of entertainment. It’s a show born out of love and joy. As I sit in beautiful surroundings – with a mouthful of (perfectly cooked might I add) beef brisket, listening to Butler’s smooth croon, Hutton’s groovy keys and watching Jardine’s gentle shoulder shimmy – I forget the chaos of the world outside and am lost in a smile. Can you tell I liked this show?
I feel obliged to give Spitz and Crumple some kind of critique, something to build on, so I will offer one piece of non-pull-quotable content. The set-up of the show is that Spitz and Crumple are legends from years gone by and we – the audience – are their long-time fans. They refer to a couple of audience members by name to demonstrate this connection and familiarity. I would love to see some of the song titles gathered and given meaning by expanding on this relationship. Rather than simply asking for ‘the title of our biggest hit, you know the one’ perhaps they open into deeper territory. Maybe someone in the audience walked down the aisle to one of their classics, or recently played a Spitz and Crumple hit at their father’s funeral – something to connect the audience more deeply and personally to the characters and their music and firm up the audience’s placement in the world. After all, many of life’s most important moments are punctuated by music, and this nostalgic genre piece has the potential to tap into that with care and respect.
I must also quickly shout out musician Matt Hutton. I’ve seen Hutton perform and have performed alongside him a bunch of times (the Welly improv community is small), and tonight is some of the best and most demanding accompaniment I have seen from him. He absolutely knocks it out of the park, and the show would not fly half as high without his high quality score.
Spitz and Crumple is one of the New Zealand Fringe Festival’s most scrumptious offerings so far this year. I hope the team will perform it far and wide and share their artfully constructed escapism, which is just what’s needed in these *gestures at the world* times.
Sadly, Spitz and Crumple is all wrapped up, but you can catch Butler and Jardine fringing up a storm in Shaping Up: An Improv Gameshow and Maximum Benefit. I can’t recommend them highly enough!