She’s a loud, high-maintenance, shameless over-achiever, who wants to do it all. She sings, writes, presents on radio and television, she’s an ex-elite hurdler, and now she has her very own musical, which is basically just an excuse for her to prance around in the spotlight for an hour in front of an adoring audience. Em Rusciano is an attention-seeker and proud of it, and her Melbourne Cabaret Festival performance allowed her to showcase her many talents, while also preaching her strong belief that everyone must follow their dreams. And with Em Rusciano – The Musical!
it is safe to say that this vibrant drama queen is definitely following hers.
Rusciano has a strong love for elaborate costumes and being on stage, and she made this very clear from the beginning when she marched into the performance space at The Butterfly Club in a costume that looked like she had dived headfirst into a five-year-old girl’s dress-up box: sequins, feathers, bulky jewellery, glitter, bright colours, and massive ruffles. Her outfit matched the feel of the overall show—it was bright, colourful, vulgar, and fearless, and also incredibly hilarious, making it impossible for anyone to look anywhere but at her.
The musical incorporated a variety of stories and childhood memories with energetic song and dance sequences (complete with half-naked gay backing dancers), and managed to be both funny and touching, as Rusciano constantly stressed the importance of following your dreams and doing something you love. Her stories were relatable and well-written: from discussing the social statuses determined from where you used to hang out as a teenager at the blue light disco, to her competitive perspective on ‘winning’ at couples counselling, to her heart-break at discovering that her first boyfriend was gay, every tale was funny in its own way, and they were wonderfully constructed and perfectly timed.
The songs were by far the strongest moments of the performance. Rusciano’s singing voice is spectacular, hitting hard-to-reach notes with ease, and managing to insert drama and expression into each song she belted out. Accompanied by guitarist Ryan Yip (or ‘straight Ryan’ as Em called him), she adjusted the lyrics to half of the songs to better suit her humorous anecdotes, and whether the songs were intended to be funny or poignant, she wholly captivated the attention of each member of the sold-out audience.
A clear crowd favourite was her analysis of the lyrics of the mid-90’s Ginuwine tune ‘Pony’, where it seemed that most women in the audience (including myself) realised for the first time the blatant crudeness of the words, and were forced to come to terms with the tragic memory of naively dancing to it as a teenager. Some of the slower songs did drag on a little – I wanted to want more, not to sit waiting patiently for a song to end – and cutting 30 seconds off the end of a couple of the tunes would help keep the pace and flow of the show somewhat smoother.
The relationship Rusciano developed and maintained with the audience was admirable. She asked questions, yelled at us for being insensitive and laughing at her heartbreak, and even broke out of her script to hug a woman close to the stage after she sympathised with Rusciano’s relationship problems. Even though most of the time she chose to feign anger and fling insults at her audience, there was nothing but respect and adoration shown towards the feisty performer; basically, she could do no wrong for the entirety of the show.
Considering the low-budget nature of this comedic musical cabaret, the performance was extremely well put together, and very suited to the intimate venue. The room was almost too small for Rusciano’s huge personality, but she worked the space effortlessly. Em Rusciano – The Musical! was colourful and a lot of fun. If Rusciano’s dream is to be a hilarious and inspiring singing comedian, with a quick temper and a motor-mouth, who pulls off the drag queen look with ease and who can insult a room full of people and have them still love her, then she is definitely living it!
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Em Rusciano – The Musical!
Created and performed by Em Rusciano
Directed by Wes Snelling
Guitarist: Ryan Yip
The Butterfly Club, Melbourne
July 19 – 22
Melbourne Cabaret Festival
July 12 – 21