Amelia Cormack’s cabaret Love for Sale, is billed as “a delicious array of songs exploring the mystery and allure of ‘the oldest profession’”. This was enough to set my imagination aflutter, and get me pulling on my heels and shaking off the meek prudery us Brits are indoctrinated with when talk turns to ‘baser pleasures’. With this in mind I stomped determinedly off to Soho. I must admit I was half-expecting attractive ladies trussed up in their frilly unmentionables… However, what I got was one lady with an enormous talent putting on a show that was funny, clever and, at times, surprisingly poignant.
Cormack started the show off-stage, welcoming us with a seductive, evocative soliloquy that culminated in a lot of ecstatic panting. If that doesn’t set the tone for a show about prostitution, I don’t know what will. The minute Cormack stepped onstage to continue aforementioned panting, she positively oozed brooding allure, made no less powerful by the ‘come hither’ look she wore throughout most of the show.
There is no denying that Cormack is a talented singer and musician. Having played Diva in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert both in both Australia and London; written an album; and accumulated other impressive experiences over her career, the resulting precision of her vocal ability is evident. Every phrase was well executed, both in terms of technique and dramatic effect. Her notes was clear and pure, and her vocal range impressive. In any case, I will automatically love anyone who can sing the word ‘slut’ as if she were performing in a Puccini opera.
Highlights of the first act included a sentimental performance of ‘The Movie in My Mind’ from the musical Miss Saigon, and the darkly comic and increasingly unhinged rendition of ‘Missed Me’ by the Dresden Dolls. As the first act drew to a close, it was evident that, when it comes to acting and all its varied nuances, this woman can adopt a persona as effortlessly and fluidly as one would slip on a jacket. We saw this covetable ability in all its glory in the second half, with a hilarious performance of ‘I Got it From Agnes’ by Tom Lehrer, swiftly followed by two intelligent and profoundly touching numbers. The first of these was ‘Hello Again’, during which Cormack can be seen scouting for business in her usual seductive manner. Her bravado gradually fades and by the end of the song we are left looking at the despondent shell of a woman after the business is completed. The next song was a mesmerising rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’; a surprisingly tender melody coupled with lyrics brimming with desperation and despair. Cormack carried it off valiantly and with flair.
What I will say is that, whilst I enjoyed the show, part of me didn’t really understand how and why these songs had been put together. From what I can gather, most of the songs are not known for being about prostitution, but for the purposes of the show Cormack has adapted them and made them about prostitution. So in terms of the show’s structure, despite her intermittent speeches and chats both during and between songs, I found myself unsure of whether there was some form of linear narrative or whether it had a looser structure in which each song had a specific theme under the umbrella of prostitution.
The show’s finale consisted of a mash-up of the epic ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret and ‘My Body’ from musical The Life. During this final number, Cormack interwove quotes from celebrities and politicians in which they postulate on how they have in some way behaved like a hooker, just not necessarily for the purposes of sex. It was an interesting observation to make given that, perhaps, in some way we all sell ourselves for gain at one time or another; prostitutes are simply more open and honest about it.
A final characteristic I liked about Cormack’s musical style is that she doesn’t deprive the soul-loving, drama queen who resides within me. She ushered the song, and the show, to a triumphant climax in a spine-tingling mélange of colourful vocal gymnastics and loud, powerfully-sustained notes. When she left the stage, amidst hooting and whooping from the audience, there was palpable hope that she would return for an encore. And return she did. We were treated to two final songs (one of which was a touching ballad penned by Cormack herself), and with those she left the stage for the last time.
Cormack’s undeniable musicality, great accompaniment (from the talented John Rutledge), intimate venue and sumptuous staging all made what could have been, in the wrong hands, just an average collection of songs into a raucous and thoroughly entertaining evening.