‘Chameleon’ was colourful.
Finding your voice can be tricky. Knowing how to use it can be even harder. But for Stewart Reeve, finding his voice was easy – he simply uses others’. After several months touring regional Australia, he returns to Melbourne with his critically-acclaimed one-man musical odyssey, ‘Chameleon’.
Dubbed ‘The Lyrebird’ during his teens by one of his singing teachers, Reeve is skilled at mimicking the vocal performances of some of the greats in contemporary music. Reeve uses this melodic talent to harness his own power as a performer. Hot on the heels of his David Bowie-inspired show ‘Rebel’, ‘Chameleon’ widens the playlist to include the likes of Phil Collins, Adam Levine, Tones and I, Simply Red, and even Kermit the Frog. Penned during Melbourne’s 2020 lockdowns, ‘Chameleon’ has gone on to win Adelaide Fringe’s Weekly Award consecutively in 2021 and 2022. Much like the changing colours of the namesake lizard, Reeve returns to his home turf with vibrance.
Nestled within the beachside suburb of Albert Park, Gasworks Theatre (located within the larger Gasworks Arts Park) plays ‘habitat’ to ‘Chameleon’. With a homely brick veneer and outlooking the emerald gardens, Gasworks Theatre has the instant ability to put patrons at ease. Guests congregating in the open-plan lobby are able to take in the biographies of affiliated artists on the walls. Smooth, soft jazz permeates throughout the building, perfectly accompanying the laid-back atmosphere.
Once seated in the theatre, audiences are likely to be taken aback by the deceptively large stage. Laden with concrete flooring and framed with black velvet curtains, the stage provides an open canvas for artists of every forte. ‘Chameleon’s’ large placeholder banner is projected onto the curtains. Pockets of anticipation bubble amongst audience members before the lights go out and the show begins.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in a show dedicated to music, sound and lighting play an enormous part in ‘Chameleon’. Designed by Monique Orton, lighting throughout ‘Chameleon’ is bright and purposeful. Even with only Reeve onstage, Orton’s lighting elicits emotional grandeur. It is arguably at its strongest when used to frame projected photos from Reeve’s own album.
Accompanying this with the playfully versatile soundtrack affords ‘Chameleon’ with a sense of immersion. Soundbites from Tom Waits, needle scratches, and Bunnings and Schmackos jingles are interspersed between song melodies, infusing the show with levity and variety. Unsurprisingly though it is the music that truly demonstrates the show’s sound. From vocalised recorder renditions of “My Heart Will Go On” to fist-pumping anthems like Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly” – and even an out of the blue nod to ‘Round the Twist’ – the musical accompaniments of ‘Chameleon’ are delightfully nostalgic and welcome.
At the show’s core though is Reeve himself. Dressed in a casual dark green suit and oozing charisma, Reeve feels comfortable onstage. ‘Chameleon’ is a personal show for Reeve – not only is it his show, but it is his story. Reeve invites audiences into his life through personal anecdotes about his childhood, ambitions, and vulnerabilities. It is when he reflects upon the former that audiences are likely to feel most connected to the performer. One particular story about him, then nine, dressing up as Dr Frank-N-Furter from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ with his best friend is a definitive highlight. Reeve’s ability to engage with his audience throughout his singing and his spoken intervals demonstrates just how captivating a performer he is.
Of course, Reeve’s talent for musical imitation is the heart and soul of ‘Chameleon’. Rarely skipping a beat, he jumps from David Bowie to Robbie Williams, rock to Broadway, alto to baritone. Reeve also provides audiences with a metaphoric sneak peek behind the magician’s mask, sprinkling vocal tips and tricks throughout the show to demonstrate how he mimics different voices. While not every characterisation is pitch perfect, many within Reeve’s repertoire are. Standouts include the likes of Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes, Men At Work’s Colin Hay, and Nathan Lane’s Max Bialystock from ‘The Producers’. With such an eclectic array of songs, audiences will be hard-pressed not to find something in the playlist that will get their toes tapping, hands clapping, and mouths smiling.
Finding your own unique sound can be challenging for any singer. In the case of Stewart Reeve, he knows his sound is that of others. The old saying goes, “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. Reeve’s appreciation for the musicians he evokes throughout his performance in is paramount. He equally wishes to share this admiration through his voice with his audience, both through song and spoken word. With ‘Chameleon’, Reeve lets his true musical colours show in all their vibrant splendour (like a rainbow).
‘Chameleon’ performs until Saturday, 29 July at Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park. For more information about this or other shows from Gasworks’ ‘Moving Parts’ season, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.