Elise McCann’s album Dahlesque, released by ABC Music, features the songs from her new cabaret show of the same name, which premiered to rave reviews at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Dahlesque comprises a selection of music inspired by the gloriously irreverent, darkly funny stories of children’s author Roald Dahl including numbers from the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the musicals Matilda The Musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach. It’s a clever idea, and spins off the fact that McCann recently played Miss Honey in the Australian production of Matilda The Musical, winning both a Sydney Theatre Award and a Helpmann Award for her touching portrayal.
The warmth and glow that McCann has as a stage performer shines through on the album. She has a lovely pure, true voice with a honeyed tone in her middle register, an effortless belt, and top notes that send ripples down the spine. It’s also a voice with real character. Her diction is impeccable and she connects with the lyric, which makes her a great storyteller in song – altogether a consummate musical theatre voice.
Accompanied here by a nine-piece band under the musical direction of Stephen Amos, the most predictable opener would probably have been Pure Imagination from the beloved film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with its Academy Award-nominated score by Leslie Bricusse. Instead, in a nice move, McCann and Richard Carroll (who co-wrote the cabaret show with her) chose to begin with It Must Be Believed To Be Seen from the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) – though there’s a brief snatch of Pure Imagination included towards the end of the song. McCann performs Pure Imagination later in the album as well as Oompa Loompa – which gathers together all the Oompa Loompa songs from the same film.
There are two less familiar but beautiful numbers from the musical James and the Giant Peach by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul who wrote the Tony Award-winning Dear Evan Hansen as well as the Academy Award-winning song City of Stars from La La Land. The first, Everywhere That You Are is a lovely, wistful song full of hope, while Middle of a Moment is a gorgeous ballad with shades of Stephen Schwarz and Alan Menken.
There are also three of Tim Minchin’s songs from Matilda The Musical: Matilda’s feisty Naughty, Miss Trunchbull’s The Smell of Rebellion – which is given a thrilling, show-stopping performance by McCann – and, of course, Miss Honey’s My House. McCann closes the album with the latter, in which Miss Honey reveals a great deal about herself by talking about her modest little home. McCann gives an exquisite performance which left me in tears.
Amos’s impressive arrangements for the album capture the theatricality and playfulness of the songs with various appealing effects that give the songs a magical quality from tinkling music box-like notes in Everywhere That You Are to discordant chords and bells for The Smell of Rebellion, while Pure Imagination moves into a jazzy swing arrangement.
The physical album contains two bonus tracks, Little Red Riding Hood & The Wolf and Three Little Pigs from Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes set to perky music by MD Stephen Amos, both of which work a treat as musical storytelling. Whether the target audience is children or adults I’m not really sure – the cabaret show interweaves biographical information about Dahl – but McCann proves to be the perfect storyteller on each and every number, her voice a constant delight.