Double act pays tribute to 50s icon Mario Lanza
Jul06

Double act pays tribute to 50s icon Mario Lanza

CREATED ON // Sunday, 06 July 2014 Author // Garrett Bithell

Up and coming performer Blake Bowden has come together with cabaret master Phil Scott for a celebration of 50s icon Mario Lanza, writes Garrett Bithell.

Growing up as a young tenor, musical theatre performer and opera singer Blake Bowden always looked up to Mario Lanza. One of the biggest stars of the 1950s, Mario seduced Hollywood and topped the charts with his rough charm and extraordinary voice. But just ten years later, he was all washed up – dying mysteriously at the age of 38.

“He had this incredible passion that has always really inspired me,” Bowden tells SX. “So what better way to step into the world of cabaret than undertake Mario’s story and his repertoire?”
So Bowden went straight to cabaret master and pianist extraordinaire Phil Scott, and together they crafted a show based on the stormy Mario, including hits like ‘We’ll Meet Again’, ‘With A Song in My Heart’ and ‘Loneliest Night of the Year’.

“It’s very much a two-hander,” Bowden says. “I play Mario at all stages of his life, and Phil plays every other character – as well as the piano. So Phil has a lot to do! He plays a mafia boss, a hit man, a singing teacher, the head of MGM, a music coach, a personal trainer, and others. I’ve been joking the show should actually be called ‘Phil Scott’s Mario Lanza show with Blake Bowden’!”

According to Scott, he needed little convincing when Bowden approached him about the show. “I mean Mario Lanza is hardly the name on everyone’s lips now, but he had a really interesting life,” Scott tells SX.

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[Image] Mario Lanza

“There are a lot of good stories, like the rumour about the mafia killing him because he pulled out of a concert that the mafia had put money into and they were very annoyed about it. He just had a diva moment and said, ‘No, I’m not doing it’. And within two months he was in this strange little hospital in Rome and then he was dead.”

But his death at 38 was most likely due to a heart condition, Scott admits. “The studios were always telling him to put on weight to record the soundtrack because he sang better when he was fat, and then he had to lose 40 pounds in a month because they were going to start filming it. And so his weight just went up and down constantly. He was on this weight loss program, which was a fad of the time, where you drank pregnant women’s urine and it was supposed to make you lose weight!”

It’s just another example of studio executives of the 50s using and abusing their talent, says Bowden. “They just used Mario for all he was worth and then spat him out. It’s the same story you hear about Marilyn Monroe. When they’d had enough of him they literally kicked him out and said ‘you can’t work, we own you’. So he was broke in the end.”

Scott raves about Bowden in the role.

“Blake is a good actor and he’s just got this voice!” he says.“He started in music theatre and he’s heading towards opera, so he’s in between those two, which is right for Mario Lanza because he had this big operatic tenor but he was a sort of crooner as well, in the style of the period. So when you listen to his songs the first half is croony and right up against the microphone, and then the second half it goes up two keys and he belts the shit out of it. And Blake can do all that.”

Mario, Hayes Theatre (19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point), July 9 – 12. Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au

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Garrett Bithell

Garrett Bithell

Garrett Bithell is the editor of CULT Magazine.

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