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ENTERTAINMENT: She’s gotta lotta nerve(s)
By Nick Bond on September 20, 2013
Rock n’ roll cabaret chanteuse Christa Hughes channels pop-culture’s most lovably neurotic dames in her latest show, Neurotic Ladyland, which makes its Sydney premiere at the Vanguard this month following sell-out performances at Melbourne’s Famous Spiegeltent and Perth’s Majesty’s Theatre.
Inspired and guided by the spirits of Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard), Baby Jane Hudson (Whatever Happened To Baby Jane) and Little Edie Beale (Grey Gardens), Neurotic Ladyland is ‘a celebration of mad and magnificent women’ – and some of the aforementioned bonkers broads will even cameo.
“Norma and Baby Jane do make an appearance in the show – I put together a little sound montage from their films, with clips and dialogue that I lip synch in character,” Hughes told the Star Observer.
She’ll mix original songs and covers throughout the show, including an inspired mash-up of Liza Minnelli’s Mein Herr and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life that was borne from Hughes’ daydreams about the pair hanging out together in Berlin during the filming of Cabaret. Throughout, though, the focus is on the women Hughes inhabits on stage.
“There are performances I’ve seen that have just never left my system, like Norma Desmond and Baby Jane Hudson. But I’ve got a few characters of my own, such as Fanny Warhol – a 1970s feminist performance artist who is obsessed with her vagina. She is incredibly earnest, and feels that through her vaginal art, she will save the world.”
Hughes has amassed quite the litany of characters during her years on stage. Having started performing at the age of 15 alongside her jazz pianist father Dick Hughes, she joined the ramshackle pop-rock outfit Machine Gun Fellatio in the late ‘90s and, after they broke up, became Ring Mistress at Circus Oz. Through it all, her own solo career, her own shows – and her own crazed characters.
“I have all these characters but I was in need of a linking theme. Then I realised: neuroses! That seems to be a bit of a link here. These women are completely neurotic. They’re beautiful and powerful in a certain way, and quite demented and deluded in other ways, which makes for great hilarity but also great pathos. You like them, but you also feel a bit sorry for them.”
Of course, one doesn’t have to tell Hughes that gay audiences in particular have something of an affinity with neurotic, dramatic women. From Judy Garland onwards, stick a fragile-yet-fabulous woman in the limelight and she’ll undoubtedly find herself an audience of gay men.
“It definitely has a high camp factor, as these women did. They were melodramatic, over-the-top and flamboyant. You may not want to live with them, but you’ll be more than happy to share an hour with them,” said Hughes.
“I always have incredibly eclectic crowds, and I love them all, but the gay crowd will inevitably get all the references. Other people come up to me after the show and tell me they’ll need to do their research and watch the old films to understand what I’m on about, whereas gay men just tell me, ‘Oh god, you did Baby Jane, I loved that bit!’
INFO: Neurotic Ladyland, Vanguard, September 29 & 29. www.thevanguard.com.au