Combo Fiasco was an Australian cabaret act that enjoyed success in America prior to their break up in 2004.
Combo Fiasco was formed in 1992 by Tony McGill, Sharon Millerchip and Shaun Murphy – all well known names in Australian musical theatre. The group began as a one night benefit performance when the three were performing in Phantom of the Opera. Their show continued – famed for its wicked satire of the musical, later banned by Andrew Lloyd Webber. From there Combo became Australia’s leading cabaret ensemble. In 1993 Sharon left the group, and was replaced by ex-ballerina Charmaine Clements.
The group performs a range of styles – generally musical theatre, but they include a fair amount of Tom Lehrer’s works, some Gershwin, crazy camp comedy, and, well, bits of almost everything. Tony McGill leads the group at the piano, taking his turn at the vocals as well as cueing in any accompanists they might have. Charmaine and Shaun are the main vocalists, and all three take turns at the fairly snappy repartee and commentary that punctuates the music.
Combo is renowned for its incredibly tight, often counterintuitive harmonies. The three voices blend together extremely well, and the very difficult juxtapositions of melody and harmony are faultlessly executed. The trio are not above sacrificing pitch in the name of comedy. Both Charmaine and Sharon demonstrated their ability to sing off key – Charmaine in the comedic piece “I’m on the stage!” and Sharon in the skit “Eric of the Opera” – as an amazingly bad Christine.
Combo Fiasco first burst onto the New York scene in 1998, playing to sell-out audiences and generating rave reviews, and they remain a favourite act there. The 1998/99 season led to an appearance on the NBC Today Show, and the group was invited to open the New York Cabaret Convention, the first non-American act ever to do so. They frequently tour Australia, and recently performed at the 2002 Sydney Gay Games.
The trio has released three albums so far - one of the original group, and two by the current line-up. Album details are listed at the end of this write-up.
This paragraph written before they split. I stand by it.
For anyone who likes musical theatre and musical comedy, Combo Fiasco is just fantastic. They’re guaranteed to sing at least one song that will break your heart, at least one piece that will leave you weak with laughter, and Shaun Murphy will demonstrate the full power of his fantastic voice for at least one song – leaving the hairs on the back of your neck standing up in sheer musical shock. A night out at a Combo Fiasco performance is well worth the effort.
“A night with Combo Fiasco is hilarious, poignant, frivolous and engrossing. It is a roller-coaster ride which swerves from funky grooves and reflective Sondheim to ingenious spoofs... it’s high energy and effervescence all the way.”
- Herald Sun, Melbourne.
"One of the best musical comedy acts of this, or any season in recent memory. It's one of those sassy acts that could easily end up in one of the major rooms and build a frenzied following. They're that good. They're funny, sophisticated and collectively a tight and totally irresistible act that's a must-see."
- John Hoglund, Backstage Magazine, New York, October 1998.
CD recordings include:
Here – released nationally within Australia and the US
Includes medleys of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim works; the hilarious Lloyd Webber spoof “Eric of the Opera”; Randy Crawford’s beautiful “Almaz”; Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag” and 7 other classics from musical theatre.
Combo Fiasco - Live at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Includes Rhythm of Life (as does the other cd); Burt Bacharach and Fats Waller medleys; a combination of Sondheim’s “Children will Listen” and the hauntingly beautiful “One Tin Soldier”; and Mr. Shaun Murphy showing off his voice again, this time with “Time to Say Goodbye”. Also some fantastic comedy pieces – a lament for the 80’s; “The Masochism Tango” by Tom Lehrer; and a couple of songs detailing the types of men one finds around these days.
The recording from the Midsumma Gay and Lesbian celebrations, this CD is very slightly bent, and very enjoyable. Includes the gorgeous "Sentimental Journey
", the painfully hilarious "I'm on the stage", and is rather more inclined towards the comedic than the previous two CDs.