Children and Art – Tyran Parke at the Art Gallery of NSW

Tyran Parke never fails to astound and delight in live performance. His new one man show Children and Art, which debuted at the Art Gallery of NSW on Friday is no exception. A masterful creation of subtle skill and emotional depth, this cabaret has to be one of the most emotionally honest and shattering to be seen on a Sydney stage in years.

Tyran Parke. Image by Blueprint Studios
Tyran Parke. Image by Blueprint Studios

Though the Art Gallery of NSW is not your perfect cabaret venue, it makes a magnificently atmospheric room for an evening of good music, and Tyran Parke and musical director Luke Byrne were more than up to the challenge. Surrounded by colour and the light of a fantastic ceiling art installation, Parke took his audience on a metaphorical tour about the gallery to some of his favourite works (as well as a picture by his own brother, photographer Trent Parke) that eventually extended into a tour of his own past. The central conceit is from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George: there are only two things that we can leave behind us that will last, children and art. With honesty, with quiet, insightful emotion and with remarkable tenderness and skill, Parke then proceeded to display how this was true, by telling the story of his mother and what she left behind her.

Parke has three fantastic weapons at his disposal as a cabaret artist. First, his voice is stunning. A light and versatile instrument, he blazed through the endless wordplay of his opening number, ‘Putting it Together’ and spun images rich and rare in songs ranging from Disney standard “When You Wish Upon a Star” to a fantastically arranged rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’.

Second, Parke’s knowledge of music theatre and how to apply it on stage is effortless and instinctive. With new songs on display in his ubiquitous arsenal, he breezed through songs by Pasek and Paul, and even managed to make a song from Andrew Lippa’s recent and heavily derided musical Big Fish sound really quite fun!

[pull_left]You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be transported – and isn’t that what cabaret is meant to be all about?[/pull_left]

Third, Parke’s skill as a storyteller is truly second to none. As he guided his audience through dark tales of his mothers sudden passing from a severe asthmatic episode and how each of his two brothers learned to cope in the aftermath, he created moments of stunning emotional clarity, joy, humour and pain. By the end of his rendition of the Don McClean standard ‘Vincent’, there was not a dry eye in the house, while his anthemic comic tour de force ‘Choose Happy’ continues to delight.

At a young age, Parke is a veteran of the music theatre and the cabaret stage who continues to go from strength to strength. Children and Art is once again a mightily challenging but brilliantly executed display of his capacity to write, to direct and to perform. It is with talent such as this that the independent music theatre scene in Oz has rebuilt itself in recent years and it is with endless fascination that we are permitted the joyful experience of watching them prosper and grow. At this stage Parke remains an absolute must see solo performer. Capable of writing a biographical one man show with genuine pathos, wit and power, he goes far, far beyond the oft delivered musical theatre performer singing his hits. It can only be hoped that other audiences around Australia will be able to see Children and Art and soon. But then with Parke a clamoured for favourite on stages in New Zealand, Australia and in New York, he’s no doubt got many a project ahead in 2014. Needless to say, if you see his name on a bill, grab a ticket. Oh and take your tissues.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be transported – and isn’t that what cabaret is meant to be all about?

Written by David Allen

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