Capsis takes Vienna

Alex Galeazzi & Panos Couros

It is opening night at the Schauspielhaus in Vienna’s 9th district. The foyer is packed with vibrant yet reserved Viennese for the second season of Paul Capsis’ Boulevard Delirium. Viennese are a very diligent theatre going lot with the city boasting 45 theatres for a population of 1.7 million. There is no need for programs to develop new audiences or to attract young people—it is a core aspect of a culture that has spawned the likes of Mozart, Strauss and Klimt to mention but a few. The minister for culture, who was in attendance on opening night, is the third most powerful man in Austrian politics. It is not surprising that one of Australia’s most challenging and talented directors Barrie Kosky has taken up residence there as the director. With an annual budget of just under 3 million (AUD), a core staff of 10, a box office income expectation of just 5% and 3 month rehearsal periods he says it’s like a dream come true.

The house lights dim and Capsis appears spot lit in front of a lush red velvet curtain, his burlesque character in total harmony with the theatre’s historic ambience. Top hatted and tailed, he launches into a sumptuous rendition of 'Windmills of My Mind' which segues seamlessly into the wrenching 60s classic 'Anyone Who had a Heart.' The audience is transfixed.

From this intimacy the curtains part to reveal the full complement of the musical ensemble. Capsis is in his element, he is singing the blues-and how! The songs are raunchy, and the Viennese bristle. Relief comes climactically through the heartfelt ballad 'Little Girl Blue'. Capsis then evokes Garland and we are her audience in Carnegie Hall. Kosky’s delicate orchestration allows us an intimate insight into this vulnerable persona. Through classic standards such as ‘The Man that Got Away' and 'Get Happy', Capsis is able not only to interpret Garland but also to add layers through his unique renditions, from pop to punk and back again.

The Viennese swoon to Marlene’s appearance in their native tongue, only to be caught off guard by a strident Streisand attacking them with 'Don’t Rain on My Parade.' And before our next breath, we are praising the lord in a fervor of gospel evangelism.

With a twist of his hair and the placing of a flower, Billy Holiday makes her entrance. Close your eyes and the similarity is remarkable, the characterization sublime.

A Capsis show is never complete without Janis hitting the stage; her reckless hair and loose presence throw us into a free love euphoric Woodstock affair. The audience go ballistic. Capsis and Kosky cleverly exploit this dynamic by catapulting us into a sensational version of Queen’s 'We are the Champions', the poignancy of the rock ‘anthem’ touched the heart and soul of the audience. Capsis exits leaving us chanting for more. We are appeased by a beautifully stark rendition of 'Summertime' before he concludes with the edgy and provocative 'Home Is Where the Hatred Is.'

Broadway Delirium is the culmination of the Capsis experience, combining his favorite characters over the years in a fresh interpretation. Kosky’s clever staging, lighting and direction create a richly dramatic journey, the essence of which lies in the brilliant placement of songs. Backed by a very agile and tight band led by musical director Roman Gottwald, the electric combination of Kosky and Capsis results in a dangerously sophisticated and stylized cabaret. The Viennese loved it.

Paul Capsis, Boulevard Delirium, director Barrie Kosky, musical director Roman Gottwald, Schauspielhaus, Vienna, Sept 6.

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. web

© Alex Galeazzi & Panos Couros; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002