Marcia Hines revisits her hit-making disco days in Velvet

by Russell Baillie / 12 September, 2017
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Disco fairy godmother Marcia Hines: “We are as cool as we need to be.” Photo/Linnet Foto

Cabaret show Velvet has taken Marcia Hines from Australia to Britain and now New Zealand.

Talk about a time warp. Marcia Hines first came to New Zealand for the Age of Aquarius. She’s coming back to play a disco fairy godmother.

Her initial visit was with the 1972 Australian touring production of hippy musical Hair, which took months to bring Broadway’s own summer of love to the country’s theatres.

Then, Hines was a Boston-born Jamaican-American teenager, one of a group of US singers roped in to give the show some racial diversity. The same thing happened to another young Boston singer named Donna Summer, who, having appeared in the European production of Hair, started her recording career in Germany.

After Hair, Hines appeared as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. She stayed on in Australia and became a solo star in the mid to late 70s.

It’s that period she’s revisiting with Velvet, a disco-powered burlesque circus cabaret that takes its cues from legendary New York nightclub Studio 54.

The show started at the Adelaide Fringe in 2015 and has become a fixture on the Australian festival circuit. It’s one of a number of circus-cabaret shows that have been doing the rounds in recent years. This one is playing at two arts festivals on its New Zealand tour. But is it art?

“We are as cool as we need to be,” says Hines with a chuckle. Her sequin-frocked role involves overseeing its naive hero as he ventures into a risqué and acrobatic boogie wonderland. She says much of her godmotherly advice comes via songs – mirror-ball classics such as Last Dance, It’s Raining Men and No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).

Her own 1977 track You – her biggest hit in Australia – also features in the show. Did the producers insist or did she?

“I had no say. If they had brought a song to me and I didn’t like it, I would have said, ‘I don’t think so’, but these were songs I had either sung in concert or grown up with. That’s a great thing.”

That old hit recalls the time, in 1977 and 1978, when Hines was Australia’s biggest-selling act and appearing in charts on both sides of the ditch. Not just disco either. She remembers having a top-five hit in New Zealand with the ballad Something’s Missing (In My Life) in 1979.

In more recent years, Hines has attempted at least one disco revival, on her album Discothèque, which also features some of the songs used in the show. The 2006 set was released during Hines’ long tenure as an Australian Idol judge.

“It introduced me to a couple of generations that wouldn’t have known me otherwise,” she says of the show.

Velvet has taken her to Britain for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but her career has stayed firmly in Australia since she went there in 1970 for Hair and, not long after, gave birth to daughter, Deni.

“Well, this was where my support system was, I suppose,” she says of the reason she stayed. “I lived my life kind of backwards. I came to Australia and turned into a star. So as a performer, you stay where the work is. My manager and I went to America and we were offered some incredible opportunities, but the proviso was I had to live in America, and LA at that.

“I’m a Bostonian and we’re really normal. There is something really abnormal about LA and I did not want to bring up my daughter in LA.”

Christchurch Arts Festival, September 6-17; Auckland Live International Cabaret Season, September 21-29.

This article was first published in the September 9, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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