There’s nothing better than spending a lazy Sunday afternoon with a good show at the Melba Spiegeltent. We shuffle in as the afternoon sun streams through the strained glass windows, all the while being treated to the music of a smooth jazz trio on stage. Two giant easels with sheets of paper dress one side of the stage, while a couch and an end table with wine glasses and a copy of Mum’s (Magda Szubanski’s) autobiography sits on the other. As show time approaches the music is starting to heat up and the eager crowd fills up, unsure of what we’re really in store for.
Suddenly, like a mini tornado of energy, a flurry of blonde wigs, neckerchiefs and floral blouses explode onto the stage, belting out a catchy rendition of The Pointer Sisters classic ‘I’m So Excited’. These are Steph and Dan Teitelbaum, or as we’ll come to know them, Ben Downe and Carm Downe, the illegitimate love children of Bob Downe and Magda Szubanksi.
After an energizing opening musical number, shifting between Kenny Loggins and The Pointer Sisters, we’re properly introduced to the twin siblings. After some playful banter with the crowd, they settle in to tell us their origin story.
The pair tells the hysterical story of the night their “parents” met at Mardi Gras back in 1986. Their conception occurred as a celebration of love during a festival celebrating love. This is where the ridiculousness begins, with Ben and Carm bouncing witty dialogue back and forth with almost criminal ease, throwing in the occasional leg kick or dance flair to punctuate a joke, almost like a physical rim shot, making it all the funnier.
“But enough about us, we’re here to tell you our story,” the siblings joke. Ben and Carm’s story is a unique one, splitting time between Mum & Dad, living in side by side houses in Murwillumbah. They grew up spending time on set or in the green room with their famous performer parents. Steph and Dan never lose the silly thread of the show, always swinging back round to the crazy premise and somehow making it relatable and entertaining.
Multiple musical numbers work to power the show along, with the audience getting involved by cheering and clapping along with each song. Utilising standards like Patrick Hernandez’s ‘Born to be Alive’ or Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, the pair twist them into duets that perfectly express the tone of the show, their relationship and their chemistry as performers. This culminates with a meta rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ towards the end of the show, which is exists mainly because “it’s about time for another song in the show”.
The show also works as a love letter to two of Australia’s most iconic performers. In amongst the absurdity we’re treated to little memories and highlights from their careers. While some jabs are given, it’s clear that it’s all in good fun, as Dan and Steph give us a first hand look at how impactful Magda and Bob have been.
As performers they have an amazing chemistry, bouncing off each other like only real siblings can. The line of what’s improv and what’s scripted becomes muddled as they work their way through a tightly constructed show with a playful nature that infects the audience. It’s clear they’re having a blast on stage and that bleeds over into the audience.
The show is a masterwork of utter silliness. Working from a ridiculous premise, which it never shies away from, the show tells that everybody deserves to be loved and have a laugh, and to not be shy about giving it out… or putting it in.
The Illegitimate Love Children of Bob Downe and Magda Szubanski is 60 minutes of pure joy filled with songs, laughs, storytelling and many floral blouse wardrobe changes. It’s a show that embraces the silly while still delivering a little heart. Bob and Magda were two performers who were themselves on stage, through and through. They taught us it’s ok to be different and fun, and this show is a perfect extension of that.
Highlight: A beautifully written poem about not being “a can’t”.
Lowlight: The loud noise from The Tote next door invading some of the disco songs.
Crowd Favourite: Carm’s amazing rendition of ‘Lady Marmalade’.