‘Alone At Last’ was indulgent.
Fresh from its critically acclaimed debut season in the Adelaide Fringe, Brendan MacLean graced the Brisbane Powerhouse’s MELT festival with ‘Alone At Last’.
This cabaret performance brought a rich selection of the performer’s original music along with covers and renditions from the shows that have made him a star of the stage. With a ukelele and a grand piano (that is really a concealed keyboard), MacLean presented a selection of lush, cheeky and tantalising performances of original songs and covers in an indulgent sharing of harnessed and honed musical talent amongst his stories of challenges and successes throughout his career so far.
The one-hour work’s focal theme of ‘being alone’ allowed for sweet, rich, passionate numbers that explored experiences of unrequited love, unexpected hurt, and unforgettable experiences. Highlights included a sweetly humble opening performance of MacLean’s hit ‘Stupid’, playful covers of queer icons such as Lady Gaga and Robyn, and a heartfelt tribute to MacLean’s mother who ‘sadly wasn’t with us’ because she was in Sydney – a joke that is all the more tongue-in-cheek post-pandemic outbreak (or as MacLean calls it ‘the panini’).
The showcase of MacLean’s vocal strength, poetic songwriting and playful humour unfolded in a staggered progression of music and lyrics that highlight the performer’s talents in a personalised, intimate setting. The original songs consistently linked together through the theme of being alone; however, the “at last” aspect of the work’s title seems repetitive for sections of what was otherwise a passionate sharing of personal experiences.
Between songs, MacLean gradually revealed the intent behind ‘Alone At Last’ – a sharing of original works that link to feeling alone in one way or another. MacLean addressed the title’s suggestion of embracing being alone in a relatable expression of enjoying the choice to do just that. Then, like so many of us, MacLean relented how the pandemic forced the choice out of his life and instilled an evident effort to embrace the unexpected delights and humorous irony of uncanny misfortune that inspires MacLean’s compositions.
MacLean’s original works are beautifully detailed, laden with metaphors and performed beautifully. Unfortunately, the songs’ arrangements and the way they were interspersed was sometimes jarring. Although remarkable stories of brushes with fame, the journey between anecdote and musical number could have aligned more strategically.
Whether it was the desire to lighten mood with enviable meet-cutes, or perhaps a desire to share his newest works early in the evening, the otherwise rich and honest set list began with an arrangement of one too many break-up songs. This introduction stifled what could have been a collection of unique and beautifully poetic compositions.
If the work had better spaced the highs and lows of his career more, perhaps the overall evening would have felt more evenly weighted. Instead, the self-deprecating humour and celebrity name-dropping sat awkwardly; a reshuffling of topics at the top of the show could have provided the audience with a pallet cleanse between songs, stories and covers and may have allowed for a more balanced exposition of MacLean’s range of unabashed honesty and vocal prowess.
As a host, MacLean’s overall performance was cheeky yet earnest. Amongst stories of adventures abroad with gay icons, that denounce gasps from the envious and awestruck audience members, it is MacLean’s more vulnerable and unique experiences that created an overarching relatability. From love songs and heartbreak to deeper considerations of career milestones, aching desires to be accepted, and heartfelt dissections of how songs can connect us to love, loss and encapsulations of self-expression, MacLean entices his audience with energy and playfulness.
MacLean poked fun at Brisbane Powerhouse’s MELT festival with an exploration of what ‘gay’ can look and sound like with a layered costume that created a collage of colour, textures and era allusions.
MacLean’s fusion of his reputation as a chameleon of the stage and a crowd-favourite for smash-hit singles and productions like L’Hotel and Velvet, ‘Alone At Lasts’ was a night that revealed the musician behind the career. Indeed, MacLean’s talent shined bright, his demeanour welcoming and playful, and his performance leaping between humorous to heartfelt and back again to present a beautiful showcase of musical talent.
‘Alone At Last’ performed until November 26, 2022 at BRISBANE POWERHOUSE as part of the 2022 MELT festival. For more information visit their official website.