FIONA O'DOHERTY @ Melbourne Leader for the Herald Sun
Oct 14, 2015
As soon as Cecilia Low, aka Betty Davis, began prowling the stage belting out raw, guttural funk, the audience was pinned to their seats like willing prey. The performance offers an unforgettable snapshot of the early years of 1970s singer Betty Davis. Davis begins by welcoming the audience to her show at New York venue, The Cellar, and introducing her killer band. What follows is a soul shaking rendition of Davis’ tunes — a heady combination of Sly and the Family Stone and Hendrix but a hell of a lot nastier. There was almost a stampede when the audience was invited on stage to dance at the conclusion of the show. Film recreations of events in Davis’ life projected behind the band added depth to the performance. A feature documentary film about Davis is due for release late 2016 and I, for one, cannot wait to see it. Hopefully, Cecilia Low’s tribute to the diva gets another run in Melbourne soon.
TOM BENSLEY @ Theatre People.com
Sept 23, 2015
Before I saw Cecilia Low’s They Say She’s Different I’d never heard of Betty Davis. I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, walking into the elegant Big House theatre at Gasworks was like stepping into a time capsule. Low and co. had captured the atmosphere of the 70s and brought it to the 2015 Fringe Festival.
The band’s equipment is splayed out on the stage. Leroy Ramone, bass player and occasional narrator (Tony Kopa), greets us as we walk in. “Hey, brother,” he murmurs, shaking hands. “Get yourself a drink.” Guitarist Philly Ray (Phil Cebrano) is banging out a funky jam. A guy and girl dressed in aviators, headbands and colourful, loose fitting clothes are slow dancing, with a bit of arse-grabbing for the audience to see. Afros are the hairstyle of choice. I start to feel positively un-groovy amid this magnificent recreation of a 70s soul/funk concert.
A disco ball hangs above and red, blue and yellow lights splatter all over venue. Smoke slowly spreads and hangs in the air. At this point, the doors leading to the outside world are feeling distant, as the transformative performance works its magic.
A few seats to my left, a concert-goer in a hippie getup lets out a squawk of laughter and tumbles back in her chair. Leroy yells out and she starts to stumble around, drink in hand. She lunges at the camera op, his film displayed on the projector screen up the back, and she tackles him down. Other stage hands run in to cart her off as she laughs and cheers in their arms. Leroy apologises with a laugh. “She can get a little crazy sometimes.”
Now I’m sure of it. I’ve time-travelled to the 70s. Smack dab in the middle of a Betty Davis concert.
Betty Davis was a funk and soul singer throughout the 60s and 70s. She produced only three albums during her career but her influence has rolled like a wave throughout musical history. You can hear her primal, raunchy voice inspiring artists as diverse as Erykah Badu, Sasquatch and the late Winehouse.
Briefly married to Miles Davis, she introduced the jazz king to her friends Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Davis also encouraged Miles to call his album Bitches Brew, instead of the lukewarm “Witches Brew”.
Betty Marby took Davis’s name and stuck with it after their short marriage, but she’s nobody’s other half. Song writer from the age of 12 and spinning records in trendy New York club “The Cellar” before she was twenty, Betty never needed a guiding hand. She wrote and produced all her albums and stayed clean despite the narcotics that pervaded the 60s. “When everybody started to get high,” Betty said in one of the only interviews she ever gave, “I’d just leave.” Her connection to the 60s was a musical one.
Cecilia Low, creator/writer/producer/costumer/genius embodies the history and explosive soul of Betty Davis perfectly. The moment she struts onto the stage, clad in a silver, winged suit like some uniform from a 70s science fiction movie, the stage is transformed into Betty’s personal pedestal. Low’s screeches and growls aren’t merely an impersonation, she revives the queen of funk and shoves it right in the audience’s face (to our delight). Her onstage moves celebrate the sexual revolution of the time, with high kicks and gyrations. Her swaggering walk oozes sex appeal and fierce power simultaneously. This is Cecilia Low’s show, and she knows it.The band’s repertoire includes Betty’s first song with The Chambers “Uptown in Harlem”, popular Davis number “They Say I’m Different” and plenty of hits from her first album like the controversial “Your Man, My Man (it’s all the same)”. Behind her, bass player and drummer (Thom Mann) keep tight grooves while the guitarist overlays with wah-pedals and screaming solos. Keyboardist and saxophonist Blind Gee (Glen Reither) is a revelation, as if they snatched a keyboardist straight out of a Woodstock performance.
Accompanying Davis on vocals is Miss HuffnPuff (Eliza Wolfgramm). Smaller in stature to the towering Low, HuffnPuff is no minor presence. The two harmonise together sublimely and when she wants to, HuffnPuff can hold her own on the stage. In little snippets framed like stage banter, Betty tells her story. She signals to the audience, fictionalising us to become part of the fantasy: “Oh hi, Mr Clapton. I do hope you can stay a little longer this time.” The Miles Davis romance is a sly anecdote, a wink to the audience because Betty knows we know about it already. She tells us he liked her because, “She had her shit together.” An instrumental rendition of Hendrix’s Voodoo Child comes midway through the show to pay tribute.
Cecilia Low doesn’t just stick to Betty’s stage persona. On the projector screen—a great storytelling technique deftly handled by cinematographer Cameron Zayec—we see Betty go backstage to apply makeup, where she admits she’s not attracted to Hendrix (something Miles Davis didn’t believe). In interviews Betty is soft-spoken, shy and describes herself as an “introvert”. She brushes off compliments, but her voice lights up when she talks music. The show took a darker turn with the death of Jimi Hendrix and later Devon Wilson—played on screen by Zahra Newman—at which point the music became a nightmarish, psychedelic mash accompanying the chaos: Leroy tried to hook up with Betty and was pushed away and Betty left the stage, distraught; the lights fell into darkness and the band was immobile. These moments kept the show versatile and showed Low’s acting chops. Kenneth Moraleda’s direction in this scene was subtle, with the camera op continually trying to film Betty up close while she pushed him away. This showed up on the big screen, an angle from bottom up emphasizing our diva’s ordeal.
There was so much going on in They Say She’s Different, but at no point was it overwhelming. Cecilia Low is a brilliant, vicious performer who has summoned the spirit of early Betty Davis. The show is a masterpiece, a perfect example of every player doing their part, passionately engaged with the material.
At the end, the handsy dancers from earlier came back, coaxing audience members to get up and boogie. A standing ovation closed the show as credits rolled the band was introduced with instrumental solos to accompany each call-out. Reality returned and I left on the kind of high Betty herself might have had, the one that kept her away from the stuff that killed her friends—the high of an exhilarating performance.
DEAN FORTE @ adamNOTeve
Sept 23, 2015
It’s rather impressive that I walked out of the Gasworks Arts Park actually thinking I had experienced the life, times and music of Betty Davis and the New York funk scene of the 1970’s. A performance that is part theatre, part film and part live music, you are immersed in all things Betty Davis and all things 1970’s New York. From the background montage of pedestrians walking the streets of 1970’s New York City, to the character that Cecilia Low (Betty Davis) maintains throughout the entire performance, it’s easy to forget it’s in fact a Wednesday evening in suburban Melbourne in the year 2015.
Bass player and musical director Tony Kopa (aka Leroy Ramone) welcomes everyone as Phil Cebrano (aka Philly Ray) casually jams away on his guitar. Low then struts out in her custom costume and the group bust out into the title track of tonight’s proceedings, They Say She’s Different, Low prowls the stage like a cat in the night, reproducing not only Davis’ signature stage moves, but also replicates spectacularly the voice and range that made Davis such a revered vocalist in her era.
Her co-partner in crime, Eliza Wolfgramm (aka Miss Huff ‘n’ Puff) delivers vocally too, both in conjunction with Low and also when soloing later in the performance, and the live performance, in totality is spectacular. Cebrano transforms character into Davis’ famous friend Jimi Hendrix as he busts out Hendrix’s classic Voodoo Child, in reference to Davis’ best friend Devon Wilson, to bring the audience not only into the music of Davis, but also the life and times of her friendship group. The death of Hendrix, and also that of Wilson, who blamed herself for the overdose of her partner, was brought to life by cinematographer Cameron Zayec, who’s creation of short films behind the stage highlights the downward spiral Wilson endured after Hendrix’s death, which ultimately brought about her own demise.
But it’s the performance of Low that delivers the goods. Clearly borne from a deep affection for the subject material, Low proudly delivers a stage show that is full of live and energy and that is relentless in its ability to cast all stage members into 1970’s New York. It’s one thing to perform a covers/tribute show, but another thing completely to be able to transport an audience into an era many of them were not alive to experience themselves. I've been privileged enough to have seen alot of Melbourne’s live music scene, but it was a joy to experience the carefully constructed immersive experience that was the life, times and music of one Betty Davis.
They Say She’s Different, performed at Gasworks in Albert Park for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, tells the largely unknown story of funk and blues legend Betty Davis during the 60s and 70s. The show plays Tuesday 22 September to Saturday 26 September 2015.
Presented as part concert, part documentary, They Say She’s Different works as a kind of live rock concert film being played out for the audience with songs interspersed with both pre-recorded film and on-stage performances depicting the artist’s life. The use of differing styles, interludes and camera angles throughout from director Kenneth Moraleda deftly reflect the different eras and moods of the lead character and work well to encompass the immersive documentary style. This is accompanied by a very strong band lead by musical director and bass player Tony Kopa, who keeps the band focussed heavily on the rhythm section with Thommy Mann on drums, with ample support from Phil Ceberano on guitar and Glen Reither on keys and saxophone.
As with a show of this type, the singing from both the lead, Cecilia Low as Betty Davis, and vocalist Eliza Wolfgramm, is clear and tenacious, tackling the difficult source material with the right power and gravity. Low, who is also the show’s creator, writer, and producer, shines as the funk musician giving both real depth and a very healthy dose of funk to her performance.
Stepping back from this, the show made clever use of the venue with the band warming up and jamming as we walked in, and a host of characters in full 60s dress milling around the stalls and at the front of the stage. While the set was minimalist, depicting a stage that would be common in a small club, the combination of this with the pre-recorded cinematic from cinematographer Cameron Zayec, provided an immersive atmosphere before and during the show.
They Say She’s Different takes on a difficult and largely unknown story and it delivers it in a bold and interesting way that is well-beyond the traditional biographical style. The band is tight, the direction innovative, and Low’s performance as Betty Davis is a convincing and at times heart-wrenching portrayal of one of funk and rock’s shining lights.
THE MONDERN CON - the Weekend Hunt
Sept 23, 2015
Betty Davis was a diver, rebel, sassy, sexy and a free spirit. She possessed this beaming confidence (on and off the stage) that hadn’t be seen before – a combination of sex appeal and raw spirit that set her apart from the pack. Yet, the story of Betty Davis is also one that’s hidden, forgotten and even as far to say as being lost in the history of 70s funk. Until now…
They Say She’s Different showing at Gasworks Art Park is part music, part theatre and part film; the performance seamlessly integrates the three different medians to produce a compelling story of success and heart break, strength and woman spirit. The show immediately starts as you walk into the theatre, strobe lights flicker above as a band jams to soothing funky beats. Stage crew walk around purposely and yelling at the ‘riff-raff’, a couple romantically dances near the front of the stage and a drunk girl makes her presence known. Then the show starts, the lights dim, the audience bubbles with excitement and out comes Betty Davis – in the flesh!
The 60 minute performance is exhilarating and engaging as the visuals and sounds make you feel as though you’re a part of the 70s. It allows a genuine feeling of being in the moment of when Betty Davis makes her first initial steps in song writing and performing in New York City. The performance explores the funk career of Betty Davis through her influences of Miles Davis (whom she married), friends with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. There is also a darker side to the play, showcasing the pain that Betty experiences through loss and the long term effects of performing to the world has left on Betty soul and confidence.
There are few performances out there that can truly achieve this level of authenticity and raw emotion than that of They Say She’s Different. Visually stunning and highly entertaining, this performance is of the killer shows of this years’ Melbourne Fringe Festival.
A piercing shriek of gravel voice and Betty Davis is reborn on the Adelaide stage. One of the ironies of showbiz is that an elegant performer such as Cecilia Low shouldn't be embodying such a coarse, raw and raucous performer. But that's show biz. Low can do it and Low believes that the funk rock fusion queen deserves to be remembered.
The Cabaret Festival audience clearly agreed, responding to her performance with its own stridency of whistles and whoops and two songs' worth of dancing around their tables in The Space.
It is a well-conceived show, something of a rock spectacle. Low is backed by a fabulous band which recreates the Chambers Brothers and many of the musical characters of the 70s wherein Betty D's flame burned so fiercly.
She dated Eric Clapton, was friends with Jimi Hendrix, recorded with Sly, Santana and the Pointer Sisters and was married to Miles Davis. She wrote and arranged her own music. She had a screeching instrument of a voice like no other. One inwardly flinches at the vocal exertion it takes to emulate it. Brave Low. But she's not just a performer and trained singer. She's a BettyD fan.
Low has written the show as an homage as well as entertainment. In realising it, she is joined on stage by the sublime Eliza Wolfgramm and vividly backed by musical director Tony Kopa with an out-there 70s-style band featuring, among wonderful others, Phil Ceberano. The show presents its very different format from the outset. As the audience settles into the room, Kopa, in a huge shock of Hendrix hair, warms the house up with music and a bit of atmospheric ham from the band.
Low struts in complemented by simultaneous video and her story begins. The video, both live and recorded, tries to give a 70s spirit and also a sense of an offstage world.
BettyD was known for her skimpy costumes and Low's fine, athletic figure showcases them well - tiny shorty shorts with long boots or black satin teddy and garter. She doesn't so much dance as gyrates her way through a myriad of highly sexual poses.
The life story emerges, sometimes in pure narrative breathily delivered to a kiss-close hand mike, sometimes as snippets between songs. Captions on the back projections add further context - and dates to identify where in the drug and sex-fuelled 70s we are.
There is a certain looseness to the production which gives it a sense of spontaneity. And there are a couple of dramatisations, one of which pits Low against Wolfgramm, like two cats brawling over a Tom. After all, there are no pretences of respectability in this show. It is rough and edgy and very loud indeed.
It is also a nicely-created time capsule which not only gives a memory trip for the oldies but a music history lesson to the youngies. It goes down wildly well with both.
Cecilia Low wrote, directed and performed They Say She's Different- an excellent live stage 'biopic' of the powerhouse 70's super sexual funk mistress of the highest order, Betty Davis. Criminally underrated yet heavily seminal, Betty Davis' music is just as relevant and filthy fucking hot forty years later.
Betty has been an obsession of mine for about ten years so I must admit I was trepidatious to how accurate or convincing the performance would be. Even with my cynical fears packed in my bag - this show blew me outta the water and I got my groove ON! I felt like I was truly having the experience I never thought I would be able to physically have. Betty live.
Amazing. If youre a fan of Betty (or not) make sure you get to one of these gigs. Hopefully these guys tour it! For the record - yes that is Phil Cebrano on guitar. Awesome!
©Copyright 2014 by Cicasa.