The sublime and the ridiculous combine wonderfully at Wilton’s Music Hall.
What do you get if you cross a cabaret legend with one of the world’s most distinguished operatic countertenors? Sounds like the start of a joke, but although this glorious evening of music-making contains more than its fair share of laughs, Only an Octave Apart is no gimmick. What may seem improbable on paper delivers on all fronts, as Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo embark on an extraordinary theatrical journey that not only provides a string of musical gems – every single one a winner – but digs deep emotionally as well.
Bond has been bringing their irrepressible style of anarchic cabaret to audiences for, well, some years now, and has rightly earned their place in the pantheon of cabaret legends. From the washed-up cabaret, has-been character of Kiki (of Kiki and Herb fame), arguably their finest creation, to countless solo shows, they’ve left a unique and indelible imprint on the genre. When you consider how over the top opera can be, this latest endeavour seems a natural progression from what’s gone before.
Teaming up with one of the world’s finest operatic countertenors, Costanzo, is a stroke of genius. Bond’s voice, gravelly and unmistakable from a career well-trodden in pubs, clubs and dare we say it, the occasional hoochie coochie bar provides the perfect foil for Costanzo’s ethereal, other-worldly instrument. At the start they explain how they met ten years ago and how their friendship has blossomed. This bond (no pun intended), is the glue that holds the performance together. What came across time and time again throughout the evening was the mutual love, admiration and affection that exists between both artists. It was the antithesis of one of Kiki’s most memorable lines: “And now ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to manufacture some genuine emotion…” Here the notion that the emotion was anything but genuine was never in doubt.
“…an extraordinary theatrical journey that not only delivers a string of musical gems… but digs deep emotionally as well”
The musical journey they take us on is eclectic, and at several junctures unexpectedly touching. It definitely elicits a rollercoaster of emotions – you laugh, you cry, sometimes simultaneously – in part due to the unflinching honesty of both performers. They possess a rare talent for being able to draw you into their songs, their banter, their emotions. Those tender moments – a poignant rendition of Prévert’s ‘Autumn Leaves’ which saw both performers mine the emotional depths of this seemingly simple French song, Bond’s unutterably moving ‘Rainbow Sleeves’ medley, and Costanzo’s exquisite performance of Liszt’s ‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ – were spellbinding.
Equally, those at the other end of the musical spectrum – Costanzo voicing Carmen’s ‘Habanera’ while Bond mimed, his audacious performance of the duet from Act III of The Marriage of Figaro where he takes on both roles of Susanna and The Count, and Bond’s ‘There are fairies at the bottom of our garden’ – rightly had the audience in stitches. There was, as you’d expect, many laughs to be had from their witty, seemingly off the cuff, repartee between songs, but they never shied away from reminding us that society still questions ‘what’s normal?’ Throughout the evening they acknowledged the huge sacrifices our transcestors and ancestors had made – a toe-tapping effervescent performance of ‘Stars’ was a fitting tribute to Sylvester – and it’s hard to imagine a better way to honour their memory and achievements than this glorious gender-fluid evening.
Bond and Costanzo were ably supported by the sensational band, which played each of Nico Muhly’s superb arrangements faultlessly under musical director Daniel Schlosberg. The mash up between ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and ‘Akhnaten’ was a stroke of genius. With a staging that complements the singing, Only an Octave Apart not only showcases two unique talents at the peak of their powers, but provides a much needed tonic – given everything that’s happening in the world right now. Only an Octave Apart is unmissable for so many reasons, but if you believe in the life-enhancing, transformative power of music, get your tickets now.
• Details of future performances can be found here.