Tyran Parke – A Light in the Dark

Tyran Parke is one of Australia's best voices: tonally rich with a clear and emotive timbre, this actor/director/performer has that wonderful gift of communicating story through song. It's this strength that makes his cabaret, A Light in the Dark, a resounding success.

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

“I don't really believe in God,” Tyran remarks, “But I do believe in Sondheim.”

Reprising his show from the inaugural Sydney Music Theatre Cabaret Festival earlier this year, Tyran took the stage at the Vanguard with a mix of self-assurance and self-deprecation that grounded his cabaret in an ongoing narrative. The best cabaret is cohesive, and A Light in the Dark is cohesive – a surprisingly introspective retrospective, if you will, of the multiple paths and threads that pushed Tyran into the world of music theatre and performance, and the personal landmarks of that journey.

There's nine year old Tyran discovering Les Miserables; there's mention of  owning twelve cast recordings of Evita; there are WAAPA anecdotes; there's a great song, pitched for comedic performance and delivered with pith and verve, about stalking, because why not?

But there's also unassailable vocal beauty. Tyran has a knack for picking songs that work, and the background crowd chatter at the Vanguard fell away as he began a rendition of “Larger Than Life” from My Favorite Year, one of those music theatre numbers that achieve the entire purpose of music theatre – revealing a person's identity through their desires, transcending speech into song.

It's not the only moment of grace. Personalising his career story, Tyran talks about the unwavering support and inspiration he received from teacher, mentor, and friend, the late Nick Enright (one of our most prolific and celebrated  Australian writers, receiving critical success in writing for  film and theatre). In a genuine, touching moment, he sings the Eddie Perfect-penned tribute song for Enright, “Someone Like Th

at” — an intimate, highly personal moment, with the kind of vulnerability that reminds us of the power of cabaret to foster human connection, if only for a moment.

We're also treated to another preview of Tyran's new song project. At Light the Night 2012, he performed a song inspired by art created by his brother, written by popular New York composer Scott Alan. The project, which saw Tyran sending his brother's photographs and his own album to several Broadway composers, asking them to write a song for him based on the visual art, received responses from some of the most buzzed-about contemporary writers in New York.

At the Vanguard, we were given a song written by Tony-nominated Jeff Blumenkrantz, and it's clear from the outset that it was written for Tyran because it fits him perfectly: soaring vocals with a mixture of comedy, determination and pathos that he handles with a deft hand.

Not shying away from the less romantic, more commercial side of the music theatre industry, Tyran tells us in brief the story of one of the greatest disappointments in Sydney music theatre — the cancellation of the fully cast and designed season of Next to Normal. It was a highly anticipated show by arts aficionados; a Pulitzer Prize winning show with real depth held such promise, and the assembled cast was strong.

Of course, this is a personal story for Tyran, who was set to direct the production, and believed in it whole-heartedly.  His elegy for the show, a heartfelt rendition of “I've Been”, served as both a reminder of the quality of the show Sydney lost, and the heartbreak of loss following strong devotion.

Tyran's bitterness, however, in cabaret as in life, can't last forever. He reaffirms his love of the industry with Jonathan Larson's song of conviction to the music theatre world from the largely autobiographical precursor to Rent, Tick, Tick… Boom!, which Tyran starred in last year. “Why” is a beautiful song, and Tyran's emotional connection to Larson and this music theatre world informs his performance with a real sense of honesty.

That right there is the appeal of A Light in the Dark, and indeed, a large part of Tyran's onstage appeal in general: the truth in his performances; his ability to connect with the material.

This was one-night only, presented as part of the Australian Cabaret Series, but next time you have a chance to see Tyran Parke perform, don't miss it. Take it up. His appearances are moments in time that deserve to be savoured.


Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue