REVIEW: Rainer Hersch’s Victor Borge (Comedy Festival)

Rainer Hersch does Victor Borge

Victor Victorious [by Sharu Delilkan]

Rainer Hersch does Victor Borge

It was sad to see the sparse turnout for what proved to be a truly professional show – something that Rainer Hersch picked up on and immediately incorporated wittily into his slick intro.

His candour with the audience from the get-go about his inspiration to create a show around Victor Borge – more out of curiosity rather than initial idolising – set the stage beautifully for this personal account. He admits that after repeated comparison to Borge, in response to his own BBC show, he felt compelled to research the Danish musician who ran away from the Nazis to ultimately become the world’s highest-paid entertainer during the 1960s. In addition to taking us on an historic journey, it was this personal journey of discovery that gave the entire show authenticity.

Hersch’s set of a Steinway grand and piano chair is simple and effective, and is aptly complemented by his coat and tails as well as white bowtie. While a majority of his act comprises clowning on the piano, the intelligent wordplay that completes his stand-up displays Borge’s unique talent.

The show very skillfully juxtaposes the classical greats such as Beethoven, Grieg, Mozart, Offenbach and Rachmaninoff against the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, ABBA and even Michael Jackson. In addition to Hersch’s agile fingers as a virtuoso pianist mirroring Borge’s talent, he exhibits an equally agile tongue with the number of accents he tackles including South African, Irish, American, German and Kiwi.

I was initially concerned that the use of classical music excerpts would tire after a while but references to pop culture, audio sound effects and Hersch’s own experience as a standup comedian kept it fresh and varied. In a way it could be classified as the comedy classical music version of The Complete Works of Shakespeare in 90 minutes, but with a healthy addition of reality and a journey of discovery for the performer himself.

The middle-aged Mozart lookalike was charming, entertaining and above all clever – he commanded the stage and audience with confidence and poise, which made us forget about the less than optimal turnout prompting frequent laugh out loud fits. Hersch also played brilliantly and self-depreciatingly on his half English, half German heritage with some home truths and emotional moments about Borge’s experiences as a Jew in the (don’t mention the) war, and his struggle for success.

Borge’s phonetic punctuation was probably the highlight of the evening for me. It is impossible to explain it without giving it entirely away – you’ll just have to got check it out to appreciate the amazing onomatopoeic sounds that he expertly executes. The show is a well-oiled production, which has been honed to perfection. The deft weaving of Borge’s story with perfectly timed musical effects, lighting cues and opera surtitles that enhanced Hersch’s equally polished delivery were truly hilarious, leaving the audience in stitches.

Rainer Hersch’s Victor Borge is a well-paced, charming, smart and funny show that I would recommend to anyone – and will do so as more people deserve to see this gem. And one of the best things about the show is that you don’t need to know who Victor Borge is. Similarly you don’t need to know or even like classical music to enjoy the show. The way in which he has strung both old and new together with a great deal of skill and precision makes it a light entertaining evening that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Rainer Hersch’s Victor Borge is presented by Masterpiece Entertainment Ltd and plays at The Comedy Chamber, Auckland Town Hall until 11 May. Details see NZ International Comedy Festival 2013.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe

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