What an irresistible concept this seemed when I first saw the posters and grabbed my tickets. Imagine Batman and his associates doing vaudeville / cabaret / burlesque in 1929: who wouldn't want to see that? Alas, the rhetoric-reality gap strikes again.
Master of Ceremonies was a bloke in spectacles and a suit who called himself Alfred Penniworth, Wayne family retainer, and who read most of his bad jokes in an Australian accent from a bound script (with a bat sign on it, of course). This show has been playing at Sydney's Vanguard for months; there's really no excuse for not knowing the lines (or the limited set list) by now - but really, for a show of this sort a bit of ad-libbing's the least we ought to be able to expect.
There's some very ordinary burlesque from "Catwoman" and "Poison Ivy" (who really just stands on stage in a caftan and writhes a bit) - "Batgirl" improves on this with some genuine contortionist work; impressive, if that's your thing, and certainly in line for the era. A pretty unfunny (and anachronistic) set of stand-up from "The Scarecrow" can only be holding its place in view of an even unfunnier (in fact, quite nasty) performance from "the Joker", which seemed to draw more from the "Saw" franchise than the Batman one. There's some reasonably entertaining old-fashioned magic from the same bloke in different costumes ("The Riddler" and "Two Face"); some acceptable singing from "Harley Quin", and some really good singing from "Mr Freeze" and a lady "Penguin" - who was frankly wasted on just one number and should have been brought back for the finale (which used a recording instead). The closer was a rather Cro-Magnon-looking tap-dancing Batman, but the highlight for me was the introduction of Robin, a tiny tiny child who performed some very 1929 feats of acrobatics to deafeat a classic henchman-type.
The two best things about Batman Follies are, first, the incredibly detailed and beautiful costumes, and second, the Gotham City big band, a really top-notch ensemble that provided live music for almost all of the acts. I would happily have paid my ticket price just to watch and listen to these guys.
In fact, I probably would have preferred it. Batman Follies of 1929 is a great idea - now it just needs to invest in acts that live up to it.