It’s quite strange to find yourself discussing hair gel with someone you’ve never met. But then I guess you can expect the unexpected with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, a group of Balkan folk troubadours with one boot firmly in the theatre camp, after acclaimed seasons at Edinburgh Fringe and the Sydney Festival.
Their self-titled style is Kabaret Noir; or as the ringmaster Mikelangelo says, trawling, “The depths of the black sea of the hard things in life, and [coming] up with the jewels that you can draw from that experience.” If that treasure includes a glistening tub of pomade, then so be it. “I’m happy to talk about male grooming at any time,” laughs Mikelangelo.
This is unsurprising for someone who unabashedly dons a superhero persona every time he steps onto the stage. “The personas are drawn from aspects of our own life,” he says, “But the warts are amplified too. It’s a way of laughing at the absurdities and difficulties of life.” I ask if friends and family find the overblown characters amusing – or if they see a truth not revealed at home.
“My family often come, and it’s great seeing my father in the audience beaming as I’m … speaking in his accent.” That’s a Croatian accent, appropriated by Mikelangelo and his siblings in lieu of actually learning the language. Similarly, “There’s a core of our music and stylings that speaks of an old world Europe – a Europe of our imagination. Longing and wondering about a world I never knew, a world of my father and mother.”
For a mixed-bag of musical styles and theatrical leanings, this is the bedrock – the nostalgia and longing for an evocative continent. “It’s the things I heard as I was growing that became formative in my mind,” says Mikelangelo, as he cites Harry Belafonte, the cowboy lament of Streets of Loredo, “Those songs go on deep.”
Jun 17-19, The Studio @ Sydney Opera House, $24-39, 9250 7777 or sydneyoperahouse.com