Review: Memoirs of a Showgirl
Queensland born and bred, Shay Stafford may seem the least likely person to become a star at the Moulin Rouge or the Lido de Paris, yet this plucky Aussie dancer turned her dreams into a reality when she travelled to the City of Light in her teens with the hopes of earning a place as one of the legendary Bluebells at cabaret’s finest venue.
Unlike the thousands of dancers who had flocked to Paris before her, Stafford’s unique talents earned her a place as a principal at both the Moulin Rouge and eventually the Lido, where for twelve years she performed to enraptured audiences, can-canning her way into their hearts.
Based on her best selling autobiography of the same name, Memoirs of a Showgirl gives the audience a glimpse of what life was like for Stafford, all those years as an Aussie dancer in Paris, performing at one of the most famous show’s in the world.
Equipped with an incredibly likeable stage presence. Stafford regales the audience with tales of the dancer’s life. Along the way we are treated to a dance break or two, the occasional slide show and guest performers who drop in to add spice to Stafford’s story.
The thoroughly gorgeous Stafford proudly proclaims she’s just shy or forty – but that doesn't stop her from kicking up her heels in some energetic dance numbers. It’s particularly extraordinary when you consider the toll of all those years or professional dance (two shows a day night after night). But it’s not the dancing that makes this show so interesting – it’s Stafford’s storytelling that really makes this piece. Honest and heartfelt, she shares the highs and lows, the loneliness and the triumphs of a dancer’s life – but no matter how dire, there’s always a sense of humour bubbling under the surface.
Since Stafford wants to give the audience a slice of what it might be like to see a show at the Lido, she’s armed herself with a troupe of talented co-stars. Monsieur P (Ben Palumbo) drops in for a cameo and delivers a hilarious rendition of ‘Non Je Ne Regrette Rien’ that showcases his voice and comedic talents. Her dancers, the Can-Cannettes offer up several musical numbers, in which Stafford also joins in and there’s even ring-work from a talented gymnast.
Obviously a small cabaret room is no match for a 1000 seat theatre – but feathers and sequins and pythons aside, Stafford’s stories and the commitment of this small troupe is enough for audiences to get a glimpse of what life might be like behind the velvet curtain.
Still if there is any crictism to be made, it is that the audience is there to hear Stafford's story. Given her incredibly likable stage presence and her ability to still hold her end up in a dance number, more could be done to work Stafford''s narrative into the song and dance taking place on stage.
Stafford's husband Bryce Corbett acts as an emcee for the piece and while he's a likeable enough fellow, he's clearly no performer and as an an audience member you find yourself willing him to get off the stage and leave the storytelling to his more than capable partner.