Michael Leunig with singer and songwritter Gyan.
Melbourne Recital Centre
Saturday, November 10
MICHAEL Leunig's cartoons are as familiar to most as breakfast cereal, his wide-eyed characters gazing out at us from our weekend papers. But watching these characters coming to life before our eyes renews and deepens the enchantment they so often engender.
In Billy the Rabbit, singer-songwriter Gyan performs musical interpretations of Leunig's poems, while Leunig sits drawing at the side of the stage. His in-the-moment creations are projected onto a large screen, providing a visual counterpoint - playful, poignant or gently ironic - to the songs and the sentiments they express.
Gyan's deep admiration for the cartoonist's work inspired this project. Her melodies are beautiful but often tinged with shadows, underlining the melancholy nature of much of Leunig's poetry and art. Gyan's voice - sometimes otherworldly, sometimes warm and earthy - is accompanied by a restrained yet responsive eight-piece band, creating moods that range from brooding torch ballad to breezy, country-tinged shuffle.
Among the many highlights are Poor Old Mother Earth, performed as an intimate duet with pianist Sam Keevers, and the show's title piece, where the band surges behind Gyan's vocals to lend the song a majestic gravitas, as Leunig sketches the lifeless, limp-eared Billy with touching simplicity.
Most of the songs are only a handful of minutes in length, and at times the pace of the show feels slightly fragmented. Condensing the set list and expanding some of the musical interludes could make this unique production even more compelling.