The dynamic duo of cabaret

Bob Downe (main image), Bob Downe with Shauna Jensen (inset). Photos: supplied, Bob Downe/Facebook.

Each of them has made a lustrous impression on the Australian entertainment industry; together, Mark Trevorrow (AKA Bob Downe) and Shauna Jensen are a glittering explosion of song and comedy. Rita Bratovich had a fun chat with both ahead of a new run of Viva Bob Vegas! at the Paddington RSL this month.

Mark Trevorrow is best known as his alter ego with an ultra-ego, Bob Downe. He first introduced the character in 1984 when he teamed up with fellow comedian, Cathy Armstrong. Bob went solo in 1987, then made a shimmering debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1988. That success doubled and redoubled as Bob insinuated himself into British pop culture via TV and live shows. By the time he returned to Australia, he was virtual royalty. Since the late 1990s, he has hosted multiple Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parades and will return to Mardi Gras with his spangly mic again next year. 

Shauna Jensen is well regarded in the Australian music scene, having performed with rock bands and in stage musicals since the 1970s. She is on the original cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar and has sung backing vocals for Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel, Richard Clapton, Jon Stevens, Noiseworks and INXS, to name a few. In 1998, she was awarded Best Female Vocalist at the inaugural Goulburn Blues Festival, and her solo work has been critically acclaimed. 

Trevorrow and Jensen have known each other for around 25 years. Their first big show together was iBob in 2005. 

“Mark and I have a great working relationship. One of the best that I’ve ever had. And I’ve learnt so much from him,” says Jensen. 

They’ve worked together many times and have developed an easy rapport on stage, something that will be evident in Trevorrow’s current show, Viva, Bob Vegas! 

Shauna Jensen (left) performing with Bob Downe in Viva Bob Vegas! Photo: supplied.

“Because we know each other so well, we just fire off each other,” says Jensen. “We do a little bit of ad lib dialogue (“Quite a lot!” Trevorrow interjects). “And sometimes we talk about the most ridiculous things. And it’s always funny because we just have the knack of bringing out the comedy in each other.”

“This is how you create comedy material,” Trevorrow adds. “You ad lib something and it gets such a good reaction that you set it … So we’re looking forward to getting back on stage because we can pick that up where we left off.”

The show had already begun its season with about 8 performances done before the city went into lockdown. Thankfully, that was enough to get it just right and, like polyester, it won’t have any wrinkles when they put it on again. 

It’s playing in the Paddington (Paddo) RSL, which is becoming the chosen venue for this type of cabaret act. 

“It is spectacular. It’s a great room. It’s beautifully laid out, and they’ve got a brand new sound system,” says Trevorrow. “There’s a lot of music in the show, a lot of songs.”

Trevorrow balks at suggestion that any of the songs are cheesy or ‘bad’.

“I’ve got the whole of recorded music, you know, pop, jazz and show music to draw on. There’s no excuse for not doing songs that are extraordinary. And I think a lot of people underestimate the power and the artistry that goes into writing a song like, for example, a Neil Diamond song like ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’ or a song like ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison. I love putting together a show that’s a sequence of songs because I try and choose songs that live in their own way and are nothing like the other songs that are in the show.”

“And we sing really well together. That’s one of the great things,” adds Jensen. 

Mark Trevorrow as Bob Downe. Image: supplied.

Both Jensen and Trevorrow are excited that they’ll have a live band led by esteemed musician, Bev Kennedy. 

“Singing with a band is more organic … it’s never 100 per cent the same every night, whereas a backing track is,” explains Jensen. 

Case in point, when they previously performed ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ to a backing track, Trevorrow was constrained to back-up vocals. Now that they’re singing it with a live band it has evolved into a duet. 

They also perform the timeless duet ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’, done intimately with just piano and bowed double bass. 

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As you’d expect, there’s a lot of comedy in the show, with Jensen playing the “straight man” (her words) to Bob, who tells lots of yarns and shares paisley-patterned pearls of wisdom. However, at mid-point in the second half, the pace slows and lights are lowered for a very poignant solo by Jensen. 

“It’s a big moment in the show,” she says, “and it’s unexpected.”

The song she sings is ‘Home’ from Broadway musical The Wiz – and it’s a show-stopper. 

“This was something I was very determined about,” explains Trevorrow. “Shauna has a solo in the middle of the second act and I wanted it to be something wonderful and moving and serious, as a contrast to a Bob song.”

Trevorrow and Jensen are thrilled about being able to perform again, acknowledging that the last 18 months has devastated the entertainment industry and frustrated the enthusiasm of many creatives. 

“What Shauna and I discovered about 10 years ago was if you don’t make your own work, it ain’t gonna happen,” says Trevorrow. 

“I honestly don’t think the live music scene is ever going to be the same as it was pre-Covid,” says Jensen. “We’re underfunded – or not funded. It’s a very, very difficult medium to work in.

“I think the thing is we have a good time doing what we do, and we wouldn’t have been doing it for as long as we’ve been doing it if we didn’t love what we do.”

Viva, Bob Vegas! plays the Paddington (Paddo) RSL, 220-232 Oxford Street, Paddington on Friday, 12 November, Saturday, 13 November and Sunday, 14 November, 2021. For tickets, visit https://www.stickytickets.com.au/a1luc/viva_bob_vegas.aspx.

For more on Bob, including merchandise and upcoming shows around Australia, visit https://www.bobdowne.com.

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.