TAKING on the biggest woman in the world is no easy feat.
Despite that, what the Australian actress behind the Midsumma festival’s Oprahfication cabaret has done in measuring-up to the giant, is as grand an attempt as the woman herself.
Rachel Dunham is the woman behind it all; an Australian singer and cabaret artist who for the past 12 months has been taking her inimitable recreation of television’s largest personality, Oprah Winfrey, to the Australian fringe movement.
Touching on the lesbian rumours that have circled Oprah since day dot, the love affair she has with her partner Stedman and her rise to the top, Oprahfication is a stellar retrospective on the global phenomenon.
Singing songs of joy and happiness, ballads about how fat, black and womanly she is as well as the ladylove she shares with her best friend Gayle, the show does a quick job of whisking the audience away into the realm of the mega star.
Taking her talents in stage performance and cabaret that Dunham has been working on for years (she was a hit in Rock of Ages), the actress’ job of an almost draggy woman- playing-a-woman character is expert in telling the tumultuous story of the life and career of Oprah.
Dunham’s as close to an Oprah lookalike as the best of them, but it’s her vocal work and almost perfectly on-point mimicry of the star’s body language and trademark interview quirks that strengthens the character. That, and the seamless use of her very own Oprah couch that doubled as a Tom Cruise jumping castle perfectly.
Her skills work quickly and perfectly in situating the audience into a smile-inspiring performance. It makes you wonder, though, just how much Oprah did she actually have to watch?
As the audience, we are part of the show: a make-believe live recording of an Oprah 25th anniversary special television production, showcasing the ‘ultimate interview,’ which appropriately enough is with herself.
Harking back in true Oprah style to her roots, relationships, self-affirmations and self- doubts, it’s easy to subdue and be taken on the ride that is an obviously flattering homage to the star.
Pulling-in her ties to the most global of influencers, Dunham portrays a character who is as lovable as she is in love with herself; claiming Ghandi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” phrase as her own is disarmingly infectious and perfectly places the character as the gigantic presence she is today.
Pleasantly peppered with ‘on-air’ ad breaks and an unexpectedly accurate voice- over, the Oprah-esque television façade is broken and the audience is given a great insight.
The character’s drive, determination and ruthlessness is stripped bare, making for a pleasant mix of highs and lows reflected in Dunham’s superb vocal work.
Accompanied by scores from musical director Shanon Whitlock, the atmosphere of the show is a milky way of upbeat numbers and melancholy ballads.
All the pieces are written by Dunham and music composed by Whitlock, which gives the pair an intensely alluring connection to each number.
Backed by the band that easily transform the theatre into what sounds like the live set of a talk show, there are no holds barred in bringing the full Oprah experience.
Though promises of a new car were made (and broken) and the scheduled lifespan of this show is fleeting, if what guests were saying about the show on their way out: “hilarious”, “so well-played” and “I didn’t expect it to be that great”; are anything to go by, you know it’ll be around for a while to come.
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