At Canberra Theatre, Sunday July 1
Touted as ‘a comic cabaret voyage’, this reviewer-come-musician couldn’t have been happier to appraise a show. Usually the idea of comedians dabbling in music elicits spinal shudders; this time you can lay that thought aside.
The only thing more noticeable on the stage than a genuine Steinway piano was an amazing visual backdrop of classic album covers spanning from Louis Armstrong to Ziggy Stardust. You may wonder why I have described these seminal album covers as amazing. The answer is that Lenny had superimposed his own head onto these covers: imagine the Lenny quartet of Queen, or a topless Lenny with Ziggy Stardust lightning across his face.
After the house lights went down, Lenny Henry exploded on stage to a Prince song with a sexy swagger to rival pop royalty itself. Despite music being the central theme, Lenny entertained with his favourite impressions (Ali and Scooby Doo) and his near unbeatable off-the-cuff humour. Of course, there were jokes about prostitutes, which could be seen as highly inappropriate anywhere else but here in Canberra.
During the show I found myself comparing Lenny’s brain to a road map: thousands of tiny red lines going every which way, and just when you thought you were completely lost he brings it full circle to a point no-one expected but to which everyone related.
Lenny seemed highly aware of his audience and his generational humour was spot-on. Nothing was off-limits either; from Attenborough to Michael Jackson, 50 Cent to a cow in a field exclaiming, ‘Bono has lost his edge’, to the inner workings of a giraffe’s mind as it peers through a window at a blue-light disco. And that, my friends, was only the first act.
For a man of 53, Lenny is energetic and insightful. He admitted to cranking music during the intermission to pump himself up for Act Two. After the crowd had settled back in, Lenny once again took to the stage to the velvety sounds of Prince. If Act One was a maze of madness, Act Two took the audience further down the rabbit hole: crumping to the story of Genesis, politics and pop music – even Churchill’s famous war speech was set to AC/DC’s Back In Black. He jumped from Disney to death row, dogs to De Niro and even described Sade as a musical laxative.
Lenny finished the night with an accomplished version of his dad’s favourite song, Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill. His rendition was flawless and everyone joined in. Like a fine wine, Lenny has improved with age and shows no signs of slowing down.