Anne Wilson in What I Did For Love | El Rocco

Anne Wilson premiered cabaret act What I Did For Love at the 2010 Sydney Fringe Festival. That was at Notes, a rather expansive, impersonal setting for an intimate show, so, dingy and dilapidated as Kings Cross’ El Rocco now is, it was arguably a more conducive space for such. Frankly, it still deserves better, but finding a room for any cabaret, in Sydney, these days, is no mean feat.

Wilson and boy genius musical director Steven Kreamer have clearly been honing, waxing and polishing the script, so that the latest incarnation, while not a reinvention, reflects much more confidence and conviction. Thus, it’s a surer thing we’ll be seduced by the pastiche of songs which has been deftly woven into a tale of desperation and love addiction, embarked upon by way of a particularly anxious and urgent version of Queen’s (Find Me) Somebody To Love, the chorus of which Wilson veritably chants, in the manner of a neurotic incantation.

Wilson seems to have heeded suggestions and disposed of some of the lamer affectations previously implicit and what we have now is a script that’s much sharper and wittier, making a credible delivery all the more possible; even if one still senses some hesitation. Whereas at its inauguration a couple of years ago I found it bogged-down by contrivance, this time around I found myself very much inclined to suspension of disbelief, making for a much more edifying experience. The songs are still glued together by Wilson’s patter (albeit infused with more audience interaction) and recorded voicemail messages. There are still, arguably, too many of the latter, some of which are too long and all of which could be tightened and tweaked, especially in terms of segues between them and the live performance.

No doubt there are many caffeinds who find true, if unrequited love with their barista, who seems to have become the pool boy of the 21st century. Wilson claims to be no exception, in appropriating Taylor, The Latte Boy, a slice-of-life song written by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, detailing Heisler’s unrequited infatuation for her local “Starbuck”. Alas, as we learn, java doesn’t always bring joy. Sometimes, the cappuccino of love proves to be nothing more than foam, froth and a heart-shaped dusting of drinking chocolate.

There’s a sinking, stabbing feeling when, in relating Perfect from Edges, Annie confesses, tragically, she doesn’t really get the stuff they show on CNN; pledging to change. It’s a heartrending song of inappropriate self-sacrifice of the kind we probably all know from our own love lives, much as we might want to deny it and most certainly a stark counterpoint to Taylor.

From there to an exceptionally anachronistic medley, but one which works, in spite of itself. From Bacharach’s Close To You to the quintessential Motown girl-group sound of I Will Follow Him (made most famous, I think, by The Supremes); the genuflecting homage of Every Breath You Take to ‘Hunners’ Throw Your Arms Around Me, which Wilson plays for parody rather than poignancy.

The highlight is still an outstanding adaptation of Britney’s Toxic, which Kremer has fiendishly arranged into a ballad. It’s delicious to see the audience twigging, some bars in.

Wilson is now hitting all the right notes, literally and figuratively, and Kreamer and her are a still-emerging force to be reckoned with. Not quite a tour de force though. Yet.

Inevitably, A Chorus Line‘s What I Did For Love makes an appearance and proves every bit as classically stirring as it ought: you’d have to be quite impervious to love and other bruises not to be moved.

Jumping again from the sublime to the ridiculous, Wilson comes back with another song from Edges, the bitter-and-twisted In Short, with its fantasies of revenge, which beat redemption any day. In part, in case you’re unfamiliar, it goes a little something like this. (It may not be the course of true love, but, sadly, for many of us, it is the true course of love. If you can relate to and laugh about it, you’ll probably love this show.

Before I go,there’s just one thing I want you to know.
I wanna punch you in the face,
Stab you with a sword.
I hope you lose all your hair,
Get eaten by a bear,
Strangle yourself with a telephone cord.
Lean out a window a little too far,
Don’t look both ways and get hit by a car.

The details: What I Did For Love played the El Rocco Room in Potts Point on May 10-11.

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