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Life is a twisted cabaret in Toronto

The Tiger Lillies are a cabaret incarnation of this noir-ish sensibility, travelling the world from their home base in England to regale audiences with a mix of high camp and lowbrow musical mayhem.

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The Tiger Lillies entertain with
high camp and raw, lowbrow music

Nov. 2, 2006. 01:00 AM
JOHN TERAUDS
CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC

As any fan of Lemony Snicket or Marilyn Mason will tell you, the human psyche has a weakness for stylishly tongue-in-cheek Gothic takes on death and destruction.

The Tiger Lillies are a cabaret incarnation of this noir-ish sensibility, travelling the world from their home base in England to regale audiences with a mix of high camp and lowbrow musical mayhem.

Think of them as being an Edward Gorey story brought to life by a trio of madcap gypsies.

Their act is a taste of what visitors to seedy avant-garde Berlin clubs must have witnessed in the permissive artistic spring of 1920s Weimar Germany. Rather than performing loose collections of songs, this trio puts on a full-formed show.

Singer and accordionist Martin Jacques, percussionist Adrian Huge and Adrian Stout (on contra bass, musical saw and, occasionally, singing as well) formed the Tiger Lillies in 1989. Their shows get ever more polished, but their sensibility is as raw as ever.

As Jacques has explained to interviewers, his background is of the streets, not a conservatory.

Torontonians lucky enough to have seen Shockheaded Peter at Harbourfront's World Stage festival in 2000 were stunned by how much glee can be gained from death and desperation.

These quasi-burlesque performances are difficult to pigeonhole. One of the most apt descriptions came from a recent review by Ross Fortune in London's Time Out magazine: "Bigger, prouder and fleshily engorged with the pustule throb of the garishly gaudy and gloriously obscene."
The Tiger Lillies get rave reviews wherever they go, from the world's biggest fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, to receiving awards in London's West End.

Jacques, who sings in a scratchy falsetto (he calls himself a countertenor), writes all the lyrics and music. He is a born storyteller. The music, with its dominant accordion sounds, is moody, veering from the lewd to the forlorn.
The Tiger Lillies arrive in town for the first time in six years bearing two shows: The Little Matchgirl, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Die Weberischen, a ribald send-up of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Both shows are on CD, which allow an excellent preview of what's coming to Harbourfront tomorrow and Saturday.

The Little Matchgirl is probably the most straightforward show the Lillies have produced. The lyrics of the impoverished little girl's fate are frankly maudlin. With tongue removed from his cheek, Jacques achieves an emotional connection that may bring tears to many audience members' eyes.

Die Weberischen, on the other hand, is a romp that centres on the Weber clan, with whom Mozart had a close association throughout his adulthood. He fell in love with one sister, and married another, Constanze. His father hated the Webers, and Mozart likely used them as a sort of 18th century finger stab at parental authority.

This is where the Lillies jump off, sardonic humour at the fore. Like when Mother Weber sings about her four daughters:

"Life's a bitch/Life's a bitch/Six sons dead four sluts to feed/Sell those bitches for my needs ..."

There are more serious songs, such as an exchange between Wolfgang and father Leopold, another, where Mozart is imploring a friend for a loan, and the final "Death Song."

The final song's lyrics contain an admonition appropriate for our own times:

"And so today you play to kings/Next year in the street you'll sing/So this year you're all the rage/Look around, act your age."

Take that, Courtney Love!

 

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