Amanda Harrison’s simple and fun cabaret, Up Close and Reasonably Personal, is a gentle act of distance. The cabaret form is notoriously intimate and Harrison negotiates her terms with us up-front, not without a smile: the show will be intimate by virtue of its size and design, but in terms of content it will not be too personal.
Instead, Harrison turns the genre’s common touch of confession back onto the audience. On every chair there is a slip of paper and a pen. Write down your own secrets, she instructs, and I’ll share them, anonymously, during the night. It’s a clever tactic – it allows for the embarrassing-funny-sweet moments of honesty and utter humanity that makes cabaret soar. It’s just that the secrets and vulnerability come from everyone and no one, but not Amanda Harrison.
This doesn’t mean she’s not chatty – she is, and breezily so. It’s coffee-talk, the kind of conversation one has with a couple of casual friends when the catch-up is more than overdue. Harrison talks about her children and her husband, the less-than-perfect romance of marriage, and her addiction to shopping at Target.
Eventually, she addresses the green elephant in the room. Harrison was the original Elphaba in the Australian cast of Wicked, a phenomenally large role by any stretch, especially considering the publicity and press appearances the smash-hit musical’s debut seemed to have endlessly in those early days. Harrison left the show so she could stop stretching herself too thin, to be more present with her husband and children. And then she says, in a moment of what feels like something genuine and honest, the reason she left is that if she didn’t, she would lose her voice.
Harrison’s voice, on full display in Up Close and Reasonably Personal, is in quite excellent shape. She sings “Let it Go” (if everyone who has ever played Elphaba doesn’t sing “Let it Go,” did Frozen even happen?) and it’s packed with trademark Harrison vocals, biting and floating in turn, always calibrating and re-calibrating its considerable power. She does include a number from Wicked, though it may not be the one you want (musical director Bev Kennedy has a comic bit to play as an obsessed Wicked fan who begs Harrison to sing “Defying Gravity,” eventually taking it on herself), and there’s an intriguing rendition of “Never Tear Us Apart” that turns into a mash-up; it doesn’t quite land, but Harrison’s vocals do.
This is a charming but ultimately pleasant cabaret, a good showcase for Harrison post-Wicked and post-An Officer and a Gentleman; she’s appealingly friendly and she can sing the heck out of a song. If this is the closest she’ll allow us to get, even in cabaret, that’s okay: at least we have a sense now of the woman behind the green.