An Awful Lot of Vaudeville
There is the real world and then there is Mojo Juju's world. As a child, the singer-songwriter and director of the Hoodoo Emporium grew up in her own fantasy realm, adopting a different name each day and refusing to respond to her own. Although she was a cause for concern to her father, Melbourne can count itself lucky that Mojo Juju has ventured further and further into her imagination over the years.
"As an adult I probably haven't really changed all that much, except now I use my imagination hopefully for other people's entertainment, rather than just my own," explains the self-proclaimed lover of payphones, diners and truck stops. Her mind's latest masterpiece, An Awful lot of Vaudeville, is guaranteed to make your pulse race and your temperature rise. While this may serve as a warning for the easily shocked, Mojo Juju adheres to a faithful philosophy: "If burlesque doesn't make you blush, it's not burlesque."
Renowned as the quirky vocalist of recently split blues noir/hoodoo septet, The Snake Oil Merchants, Mojo Juju's national solo tour finished last Friday, just in time for the launch of An Awful Lot Of Vaudeville. Although Mojo Juju won't be making a cameo appearance, guests can expect the evening to feature human conundrums and to flaunt femmes' fatales in feathers. "I'm strictly behind the scenes but you may see me pick up a few garters or whatever kind of clothing gets thrown around," she chuckles huskily.
It might surprise her fans that Mojo Juju claims she is only just beginning to embrace her "seedier side." But her latest show harks back to an age characterised by dingy clubs thick with cigar smoke, suggestion and scandal. "There's so much going on in Melbourne right now that's exciting; there are so many different types of performers, and vaudeville really is the one term that encompasses everything."
Sometimes confronting, but always entertaining, the kooky cabaret is being held every Friday in August at Red Bennies in Melbourne and boasts an impressive showcase of nine performers. With cavorting cancan dancers, comics and contortionists; magic and old-school slapstick; as well as bewitching burlesque and bushman blues, the performance is sure to leave an impression. "It's highlight after highlight. There are some real whack jobs in this show, people that are willing to go beyond and push physicality to the absolute limit… It will blow you away."
With such an eccentric line-up of talented artists, one can't help but wonder which planet they descended from. "I can't tell you that," declares Mojo Juju, "There's a secret club where everyone hangs out." A brief pause is followed by another chuckle, "There are no knock-knocks or handshakes. Everyone involved is a remarkable character. I think that when you live and breathe what you do, you tend to attract like-minded people. You can't explain it."
With a fascination for film noir and a penchant for hardboiled productions, Mojo Juju's main aim is to create a tangible atmosphere where the audience can really feel as though they have been transported back in time. "I've always wanted to live in the 1930s; Harlem, the jazz age, the Cotton Club… that era of entertainment really appeals to me and I'm never going to actually be able to visit it. I couldn't see any way around it other than if I recreated it," she shares longingly.
But An Awful lot of Vaudeville is not a tacky reproduction of a bygone era. Instead, it is a contemporary tribute to what was - and in many ways remains - an avant-garde period of pushing boundaries and crossing lines. Mojo Juju's romantic attachment to the dark, underground world of sleazy jazz clubs and flapper girls enables her to capture the essence of the 1920s while evolving the art form to fit the 21st century.
Yet despite her creative skill, Mojo Juju struggles to describe the show in three adjectives and - perhaps characteristically - cheated. After her friend came up with 'charismatic,' 'vibrant' and 'passionate,' Mojo Juju admitted that 'naughty' and 'cheeky' were more appropriate. The final word she provided was not a word at all, but rather a low, impressed whistle. Perhaps only sound effects can adequately convey what promises to be a captivating vaudeville extravaganza.
An Awful Lot of Vaudeville takes place at Red Bennies each Friday in August. For tickets and more information visit redbennies.com.
BY SOFIA LEVIN