The Age May 2023 ★★★★½
Midway through Dry My Tears, the inimitable Paul Capsis asks us to reach for the rusty razor blades under our seats. It’s dark-edged banter, obviously, but you almost want to look down to see if they’ve been provided, so intense is the turbulent emotion he channels, so dangerous his charisma onstage.
Veteran theatregoers won’t have forgotten Capsis’ indelible performance in Barrie Kosky’s Boulevard Delirium (2005) – that huge voice, the enthralling theatricality, the electric metamorphosis Capsis can achieve in full flight. Since then, he’s done everything there is to do in cabaret, from the MC in the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret to Jenny in The Threepenny Opera.
He’s done everything – amazingly enough – except perform a solo cabaret show totally unplugged. Dry My Tears ticks that off the bucket list, and audiences should make a beeline for it.
Accompanied only by Francis Greep on piano, Capsis can be more captivating when left to hone his instincts unencumbered by an imposed directorial vision. That’s true of the opening sequence, which slides from the Weimar pastiche of Wilkommen into an arresting incarnation of the real deal.
Two Brecht/Weill numbers assume the force of a monstrous visitation from a world that shamelessly exploits suffering and violates the weak. A demonic edge to Alabama Song jolts us into discomfort – grotesquerie infects both the stumbling between whiskey bars, boys, and big bucks and (in a different register) the moon-song grief at a mother’s death that rationalises them.
Capsis gives no quarter in Mack the Knife, either, on the cynicism of glamorising a serial killer. His contemptuous seduction rises into an unearthly wail, with a note of rage under the indifference. You can tell you’re singing a Brecht/Weill song right by the absence of comfortable applause, by the shocked silence of the bon bourgeois. (And if you go in expecting Sinatra, an authentic injection of Brecht’s epic theatre will be a rude surprise.)
Horror mixes with the irrepressible spirit of resistance in the ballad George, a tribute to a trans singer murdered by a soldier. And Capsis wends his way through heartbreak and lost love – via searching interpretations of such eclectic artists as Elton John, Nina Simone, and Melody Gardot – in a seamless arc that aches with melancholy – and is stronger for spurning anything so emotionally flattened as “romance” as it struggles towards self-reliance and resilience.
Both hard-won qualities bend Capsis’ monstrous talent toward a piercing examination of human vulnerability, in an up-close-and-personal experience so accomplished it feels like it should’ve been programmed in a festival. Still, the fact you can see performance of this calibre at an indie venue is part of the city’s cultural fabric. Melbourne wouldn’t be Melbourne without it. (Cameron Woodhead)
ARTSHUB May 2023 ★★★★½
The first time I saw Paul Capsis, I was a teenager seeing my very first MTC performance. He was performing as a Marlene Dietrich-style cabaret-singing narrator in Simon Phillip’s 1999 production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. For my first State Theatre play, it was an education. I remember being completely mesmerised by Capsis’ performance. His cut-glass cheekbones, high-femme make-up and lithe muscular grace in top hat and fitted tails, evoking the famously gender-bending Weimar-era star.
In Dry My Tears, Capsis performs as himself, presenting an intimate collection of songs accompanied by Francis Greep on piano, in Melbourne’s iconic fortyfivedownstairs – the raw bricks and warehouse-style barred windows exposed, lending, as Capsis quips, a ‘prison-style’ ambience to the performance. Thoughtful, simple changes in lighting states capture his expertly-handled modular shifts from dark comedy to bitter melancholic ache – while the symbiotic piano/singer relationship is honed and polished.
Capsis is a cabaret legend, and effortlessly captivates the audience from the moment he enters in feathered top hat and dark velvet jacket, his hair a halo, a life force all its own. He saunters and struts, enormous deep-set eyes flashing like his glam sequinned black shirt. His hands guide us, embracing us, pointing us out, reeling us in – his whole body contorts and shifts as he sings – leading us from the opening ‘Willkommen’ (the John Kander/Fred Ebb classic from Cabaret), a-Capsified version of Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Mack the Knife’ through to the mournful jazz ballad made famous by Nina Simone and Janis Joplin, ‘Little Girl Blue’ (written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers).
Capsis sings in French and German as easily as English – his unamplified voice ringing out powerfully in the open theatre space.
The overall show feels more like a personal journey through Capsis’ life: the highs and lows of love and loss, of grief and sadness and death. This is not political cabaret – apart from the opening reference to having two Liberal voters in the audience (to which someone behind me yelled out proudly ‘Teal!’). Yes – despite the German, this is not Weimar. But it’s something special: personal and powerful.
It’s really a joyous thing to feel so completely at ease watching a cabaret performer as seasoned as Capsis. It seemed to me an older audience (perhaps long-time fans) on the night I saw it, but I do hope younger cabaret-lovers and cabaret artists head out to see him perform. Seeing the power of a true cabaret legend who is able to hold the audience in his hand, never dropping that energy for a second – yet able to shift the focus, the mood, in the twitch of a muscle or a bat of an eyelash – is a real education in performance. (Kate Mulqueen)
STAGE NOISE July 2022 ★★★★½
The Song Company’s Associate Artistic Director Francis Greep has achieved something remarkable. He has successfully enticed master chameleon, singer-actor Paul Capsis out from behind a lifetime collection of impersonations, impressions, acts, and mimicries to reveal the artist’s most affecting and memorable character yet: himself. It’s a feat for both the co-curator and the performer, because not only is this Capsis undisguised, but also Capsis unplugged. He is a guest artist in a series entitled “Close-up” and that closeness means an acoustic recital – Greep on grand piano and the singer without microphone or any other performance prop or hiding place.
It’s heart-stopping. The evening begins in the glorious surrounds of the new Nielson: all warm timbers, svelte design, and unexpected cosiness melded with acoustic clarity. The full-house audience of just under 300 looks down on a flat floor in the middle of which is a gleaming grand piano. Capsis skips in with a naughty grin, quasi-innocent wide brown eyes, a battered top hat, fingers full of flashy rings and in a berry-red velvet suit. So far, so familiar. He even starts in on the Cabaret Emcee’s Wilkommen with apparently evil intent. But no. A brief exchange with the piano man and the artist returns to where a microphone stand could be but isn’t and delivers the song with joie de vivre but not a hint of Joel Grey.
He follows this with a gloriously intelligent version of two of the most mistreated and misunderstood songs in the Brecht/Weill canon: The Alabama Song and Mack the Knife. The first is all lightly-amused ennui, the second, bone-chilling horror; only Robyn Archer sings them as well... The melancholy deepens with a gentle Falling In Love Again, an exquisite Beautiful Dreamer, and heart-rending Little Girl Blue. A surprise awaits with a pensively sweet Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, which would surely bring tears of joy to Elton’s eyes. Back in time and another genre switch with Je ne t’aime pas on which Capsis out-Ute’s Lemper without actually trying. Another song that often drowns beneath gross histrionics and melodrama, and therefore loses all meaning and emotion, is the Kander/Ebb/Cabaret gem I Don’t Care Much. Here, Capsis is at his most restrained with a delicately-stroked piano behind him and turns it into a hymn of heartbroken defiance. Unforgettable. The hour of Dry My Tears passes in a flash and seemed to take the artist as much by surprise as it did the audience.
The curves and twists of the show’s almost imperceptible structure finally bring it to Melody Gardot’s always engaging Worrisome Heart – unpacked and illuminated by the Greep-Capsis arrangement – via a revelatory rendering of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes and the Mercer/Arlen One For My Baby... For his part, Francis Greep deserves a row of medals for persuading the singer to leave at home Bessie, Billie, Janis, and the other dead sheilas – the living legend is more than enough on the night. (Diana Simmonds)
CITY HUB SYDNEY July 2022 "Bring tissues!"
When a performer can hold an audience in his thrall for over an hour with no mic, no props, just a piano accompaniment and his effervescence, that is a true talent indeed. And that is Paul Capsis. His new solo show, Dry My Tears, is in the tradition of a stripped-down, old-school nightclub act in which he sings a selection of torch classics, supported only by silver-fingered keyboardist and Associate Artistic Director of The Song Company, Francis Greep.
Performing in The Neilson, an intimate studio in the newly refurbished Pier 2/3 arts complex, Capsis imbued the space with his warmth and eagerness to entertain. He shared more than once how thrilled he was to finally be “off the couch” and performing again, and that enthusiasm was palpable. The songlist included vintage cabaret, bleeding-heart standards, theatre gems, and one or two modern pop tunes given the Capsis/Greep treatment.
Beginning, aptly, with Willkommen from Cabaret – and momentarily reprising his remarkable performance as the Emcee in the 2017 Hayes Theatre production – Capsis moves through an eclectic mix of tunes... Capsis is the commensurate entertainer. Though diminutive in stature, he is larger than life on stage, filling the auditorium with his personality and playing simultaneously to a crowd and to each individual patron in the audience. His face and voice are super-humanly elastic and he manipulates both to great comic effect... There’s a generosity, humility in his performance, and the sheer joy he clearly takes in his craft is contagious. (Rita Bratovich)
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD July 2022 ★★★★ "Paul Capsis dares reveal his naked voice"
Consider the terror of an imaginary singer who’s always sung a tad drunk, and suddenly has to do it sober. Similarly, Paul Capsis has always performed concerts with a microphone, often with a band, and usually with flashing lights. Now here he was with no microphone, a grand piano (played by Francis Greep), and low-key lighting. It must have been comparably scary. Capsis and Greep devised the all-acoustic Dry My Tears to kick off The Song Company’s Close-Up series in its shiny new venue, The Neilson, at Pier 2/3, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Opera House’s Studio, but with tighter acoustics. Here Capsis undressed his voice, while leaving his showmanship fully attired in a burgundy velvet suit and black top-hat...
In the Bolcom/Weinstein song George, he delayed the “k” to the word “drink”, like adding a sharply cut slice of lime, and his Falling in Love Again retained the ineffable sadness of Marlene Dietrich, but now it was pure Capsis, with no mimicry, as it was on Little Girl Blue... Capsis the comedian delighted taking One for My Baby into a wee small hours world of his own, and even stronger was Melody Gardot’s Worrisome Heart, his voice now carrying echoes of his past gospel performances, while also being sassy, funny, sly and winking. Here was the power to which we’ve been accustomed, but without the all those busy electrons. (John Shand)
SYDNEY ARTS GUIDE
Choosing some great songs, applying your singing talents and acting skills with accompaniment from a fine pianist has resulted in a very entertaining show. Paul Capsis and Francis Greep’s acoustic show evokes 1930’s Berlin’s cabaret scene while recounting an emotional story of infatuation and heartbreak... Paul kept up an entertaining banter with the crowd during the show including a few references to the lovely clean theatre we occupied.
The Neilson Theatre is the recently restored venue at Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay, and it presents as a modern, tasteful venue with a nod to its significant heritage. Acoustics, seating and ambience were all excellent. In his introduction, Francis Greep mentioned the wonderful grand piano on stage. Francis playing on this grand piano perfectly complemented and supported Paul’s singing. The timbre of Paul’s voice covered a whole range of emotions: torment, despair, desire and playfulness, and Francis’ piano beautifully matched and augmented these emotions... (Mark Pigott)
Paul Capsis Close-Up in Dry My Tears is really something special to experience... The Neilson at Pier 2/3 is a beautiful and new space with remarkable acoustics, housed only with a grand piano, a table and stool... Paul left microphones and costumes behind in his first-ever solo acoustic performance. A gritty musical journey beginning in the streets of 1930’s Berlin with Willkommen, Alabama Song and Mack the Knife Influences of Marianne Faithful, Jimmy Scott and Nina Simone all absolutely broke my heart and I was crying during his moving rendition of Beautiful Dreamer and Little Girl Blue. He continued to hold the sadness with Elton John’s Sorry Seems to be the hardest word and Billy Joel’s And so it goes...
It was Paul Capsis as Paul Capsis. Raw, vulnerable and honest as he took us on what seemed to be a personal journey of his life through song. No microphone, no backup band, singers or dancers. No characters to hide behind, no makeup, no costumes nothing but Paul, Francis, a piano and Paul’s dazzling energy, voice and personality. And personality he has plenty of. He was funny, eccentric at times, quiet, hauntingly beautiful and honest in his presence and performance... Paul sang for an hour, and he gave it his all.
It was so bloody good, and I was so engaged that it honestly felt like 20 minutes, not even. I wanted more, so did the audience as we banged our feet on the floor and called for more! Encore, Encore! We won out and were treated to another song. I now understand why Baz Luhrmann refers to Paul as an Australian ‘living legend’ and has been quoted as saying ‘In all the world there is no one like Paul Capsis’ because there isn’t... Do not miss this intimate window into the heart and soul of an Australian institution that is Paul Capsis. You will not regret it. (Nola Bartolo)