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SINSATIONAL RITA AND MAE Love goddess meets queen of the double entendre

Rita Hayworth, ‘The Love Goddess’, and Mae West, known as the Queen of the Double Entendre, are paired side-by-side in a new Cabaret show for FRINGE WORLD, Sinsational Rita and Mae, starting on Valentine’s Day, February 14 and running till February 16 at King’s Lair, His Majesty’s Theatre. Sister duo, Melody and Lucinda Beck, will portray the two iconic femme fatales and go behind the censorship, sex, scandals, love affairs and images both on and off the screen, to discover the real stories behind these women. CHERYL LIM spoke to Melody Beck about the respect she gained for these glamour queens who blazed a trail for other women.

Tell us when and how you first learned about Rita Hayworth and Mae West? What sparked your fascination in these unforgettable Hollywood legends? 

We first learned about Rita Hayworth and Mae West from watching classic films when we were younger. There was always a fascination with these classic films, movie musicals, and old Hollywood glamour. We started writing two shows, one about Rita Hayworth and one about Mae West, but then we thought, “Why not combine them?!” It seemed like the perfect fit – voluptuous, witty, Hollywood femme fatales, that both combined our love of classic Hollywood glamour and charm. We thought these women were more than just what they portrayed on film, and wanted to tell their story.

Rita Hayworth was a pin-up, ‘princess’ and ‘love goddess’ with undeniable sex appeal; while Mae West was captivating, curvaceous, complex and one of the first women to boldly say ‘sex’ on the silver screen. Why do you think Rita Hayworth’s and Mae West’s stories still resonate today?

These women created the femme fatales of their time, making headlines around the world, and the femme fatale is still in existence. You can look on social media, in entertainment, theatre, film, there will always be these roles for the ‘fallen woman’ as they called it. Rita and Mae are still so relevant today, their plight of being women in Hollywood run by the big studio bosses and the casting couches resonates with the Harvey Weinsteins and the #MeToo movements. Their battles in the Golden Age of Hollywood, are still going on today through the new generations of actresses and creatives. It’s nice to bring their stories to the present and almost have them be part of this evolution of feminism. In their day, Rita and Mae found their own version of equality, starting their own production companies, mostly overcoming the stereotypes of their day, to stand alone firm in the belief of who they were and be successful.

Through your research about their lives, what did you learn about these two women that you found intriguing?

Rita didn’t have the opportunities to bare all and be portrayed as she truly was when she first started her career, a lot of what Rita did was always controlled by the men in her life, whereas Mae was a firm believer in ‘what you see is what you get’ and never defined herself by men. Rita was practically born into classical spanish dance, because her father and mother were dancers, and she was Fred Astaire’s favourite dancing partner. She also was very close to her mother – she counted her mother as her best friend. Mae was a teetotaler and never drank alcohol, but also became the second richest person in America. Mae was even jailed once for ‘corrupting the morals of America’. There are so many intriguing facts about these women, it would take us too long to list!

You won an award at the International Cabaret Competition with you show Unseen: A Tribute to Marni Nixon, the Voice of Hollywood and the 2016 Short and Sweet Cabaret Festival for ‘Best Cabaret’. And Lucinda is a talented voice-over artist, performing at live shows around Sydney. How did you both get into cabaret?

We started writing and performing cabarets back in 2012 after our mum suggested we start getting into it. With lots of encouragement and input from our mum, we kept moving forward with ideas for our show, and experimenting with different ways we could write and manipulate music and tell stories our way. Rita and Mae are definitely inspirations for both of us. Rita really resonates with me as she just wanted love and happiness and to spread joy, and Mae really resonates with Lucinda because she speaks her mind and loves a good bit of double entendre. These women got knocked down, but kept getting up again, in their private lives and public ones. They are a real inspiration, as were so many of the classic Hollywood screen sirens of their time.

Is it a challenge or fun for the both of you to play the parts of two iconic Hollywood stars? How do you get into character?

It is definitely a challenge sometimes, but it is always fun. These women had a presence about them, the kind where everything would stop and heads would turn as soon as they entered a room. To capture that we have done a lot of research and watched a lot of their films, clips, and archived interviews. There are a lot of original quotes from Rita and Mae in the show that we use as dialogue, to really hit home the vernacular of these women. We play them as ‘larger than life’ and use exaggerated make up and wigs styled by Wigs by Vanity to really get into the character. It’s quite a process but it really sets the mood.

What is it like to perform in a cabaret with your sister?

It’s great! We have our moments of frustration, like any show, but the good thing is we always have each others’ back. It’s nice getting to know a whole other side of your sister and help each other through. It makes rehearsals easy too, we tend to have similar schedules so can time when we need to work and when we can’t.

For anyone considering coming down to checking out The Sinsational Rita and Mae at The Kings Lair, in His Majesty’s Theatre from February 14-16, explain why it’s a show they shouldn’t miss?  

This show is for anyone who loves classic Hollywood, glamour, banter, true stories and great singing. This sister duo will not disappoint and will transport you back to those golden years of Hollywood. “Come up as see us sometime”, as Mae West would say.

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