Sammy J: Cyclone
Show type: Melbourne 2007
Attention residents! A cyclone has been spotted heading towards Melbourne. Remain calm. Do not panic. Farewell your loved ones and assemble at the Town Hall by 9.45pm. Songs. Jokes. Movies. Prepare to be blown away.
First impressions can be deceptive. I first encountered Sammy J perform a short set at a Laughapoolooza musical comedy night a week ago and thought his act was as lightweight as his skinny frame – full of showbiz pizzazz, but scant on material.
But on his own terms – when he’s not on the same bill as the likes of Tim Minchin and so inviting unflattering comparisons – it turns out he is a comic with high ambitions, dedication to his craft, and a decent line in offbeat jokes.
The premise of Cyclone is that we’re trapped in a shelter awaiting a twister to rip through Melbourne where the relentlessly cheerful Sammy J will keep our spirits up with songs and gags. ‘Prepare to be blown away,’ the blurb drolly notes.
And he can be impressive. His patter may be infused with a slightly phoney forced bonhomie, but he does have the gags to go with it. He writes his own songs, too, rather than rewriting other people’s, and as well as being technically strong, he again remembers to build proper punchlines into them. A basic that so many musical acts forget.
The topics and styles of his compositions are frequently original, too. He has a rock-operatic Y2K, number in which the very bug which once threatened to be so apocalyptic makes angry but impotent threats against dated technology; a lonely duet with himself; and a clever song in which every line is then repeated backwards. A jaunty tune about fingering is something of a let-down, but it goes down well even if – or perhaps because – it’s so simple.
Sammy J’s biggest strength, though, is in giving his songs, and his jokes, the big production treatment, including employing a Dorothy lookalike from the Wizard of Oz for one blink-and-you’ll-miss it gag. And his must surely be the only festival show to have employed its very own helicopter.
This is used to film aerial shots in the movie about the impending hurricane that breaks up the show. As a standalone short in its own right it would be impressive – even employing a genuine newsreader to provide realistic bulletins – and certainly adds an unexpected element to proceedings.
The script puts a few too many surreal elements into the mix, especially the ghost of one of Sammy J’s country forefathers, but in general of the strangeness pays off. The essence of Sammy’s appeal, both on video or on stage, is that you can never be quite certain what happens next.
You can be sure, too, that he’ll do it with utter conviction. He performs with such commitment to the material, it ensures it always gets the best reception. And that’s why Cyclone goes down a storm.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Melbourne, April 2007