By Barbara Loots
It isn’t every day you hear of a feminist country cabaret, and maybe the world needs more of it. Luckily songstresses Alicia McCormick and Genna Galloway are putting a fun, thigh-slapping, gal-power twist to country cabaret with Angels on Horseback: Skop, Skiet and Blonder.
This production has its cabaret roots in the 2009 Fleur du Cap award-winning Angels on Horseback, first performed by Fiona du Plooy and Candice D’Arcy as the gals with spunk and attitude. With the updated, reloaded version, Du Plooy is now guiding Galloway and McCormick through their hoedown paces as both choreographer and director.
The production is very different as it is not every day that you see country and cabaret come together in one show. “It grew out of me wanting to sing on stage”, reveals Du Plooy, “and the only style of singing I can perform is country ‘n western. I can’t sing jazz, I can’t sing opera, but country ‘n western is story telling… so [Angels on Horseback] is stories and it’s satire.”
This show with a cabaret tone is therefore no mistake. “We set it within a cabaret framework to use that smorgasbord,” Du Plooy elaborates. “Basically, we have hybridted everything: we’ve got elements of blues, we’ve got elements of bluegrass, southern worship stuff, we’ve got rock and then we’ve even got Texas Annie, a cover of an actual cabaret. The genre is very hard to sell on paper, because it sounds like a smushy smush, but somehow we’ve been able to make it feel like it’s a cabaret with a big fat theme.”
Country music is not everyone’s taste, though. McCormick admits she also thought she didn’t like the music before they got into rehearsals, “…and then you start listening to some of the music, and go, ‘no wait, oh that’s also country’, because you have this twangy-twangy misconception of a shirtless dungaree situation, but actually some of it is quite sophisticated with the lyrics… and then you realise it’s clever.”
Even with a Dolly medley and a line dance, just calling this a basic country show limits it too much; listening to the Angels, it is clear that this cabaret straddles genres. This is even evident in the costume design, which Du Plooy describes as “an updated modern steampunk look” instead of Stetsons, checked shirts and jeans. This is further accentuated by the attitude conveyed by Galloway and McCormick with their feisty performances, as they definitely have the pipes to pull off the big numbers.
With their tongue-in-cheek Angels on Horseback commentary on the roles and labels both men and society assign to women, Galloway (who walked away with the Best Actress in a Musical Fleur du Cap Award for her performance of Yitzak in the VRG Theatrical presented Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and McCormick (who recently impressed in the Tara Notcutt directed Bash) are South Africa’s answer to American country singers Maddie & Tae and their “Girl In A Country Song”. Both duos sassily give women their voice back.
To pull off this cabaret you also need high energy levels along with all that sass. “You can’t drop it for one second,” Galloway shares. “You have to maintain, because of the fact that the songs have such a beautiful journey, the way that it’s been structured as well, so you can’t really drop it even in those slow beautiful moments. You’ve got to keep that slow smoulder going, keep it buzzing.”
Not only is it a very empowering production as far as women’s lib is concerned (with the gals cleverly doing boots for boobs lyrics swaps and more), but it also brings a diversity to the festival as one of the few English productions.
One has to wonder: how well is it being received at a predominantly Afrikaans festival? Both performers and their director agree that the festival audiences seem very open to their version of cabaret and are enjoying it even if they do start off a bit reserved. They find that very encouraging. “There was lots of toe tapping and smiling” at their first performance says McCormick. “Many of the lyrics are fast paced, and sometimes you need a moment to digest what has been said.” Reflecting on their first performance Du Plooy also adds that four people actually stopped her and commented on how enthused the show left them.
The show is very subtle in the way it lures its audience into its gal-power message. The songs are well known, but then it sneaks up on you that the lyrics actually have a twist. With the aid of Jono Tait on guitar and Wesley Wolhuter on cello and piano, the Angels address issues ranging from heartbreak to gender suppression, and naturally, country style justifiable murder too. This cabaret showcases the very important place of women in society. “And if you are not open to that,” McCormick shares, “the show is still entertaining with good singing, beautiful music, and great musicians.”
So, if feminist country songs aren’t a thing yet, we can rest assured that the Angels on Horseback are changing that – one show at a time. Regardless of whether you see yourself as a revolutionary feminist, just an empowered woman, or an enlightened man, these cowgals will bring you country songs of sisterhood, wittily reworded and reworked, in a racy, lacy and liberating way.