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THEATRE: 15 FEBRUARY 2015

By TONI CARROLL

Peace Train, by John Misto | Directed by John Saunders

State Theatre, Sydney | 14 February

It was a dark and stormy summer night. My train line was undergoing trackwork, so I had to get a bus through the congested city. Barriers continuously blocked our way in preparation for the Chinese New Year celebrations the next night. Cars honked at pedestrians slipping through the traffic jam. I was one of them as I jumped off the bus to try my luck at running through the rainy mayhem to get to the theatre on time. I did, but only to be hit with a ticket mix-up and a queue a mile long at the ladies’ room.

And it was Valentine’s Day. The sight of so many loved-up couples made me want to poke my eyes out with a stick.

I was not in the mood for a show called Peace Train.

So it was in this frame of mind I took my seat, bladder full and clothes wet, as the lights dimmed. Darren Coggan and crew were going to have to work damned hard to win me over with this ‘tribute to Cat Stevens’.

And what did I know about Cat Stevens, anyway? As a Gen Xer on the cusp of Baby Boomerage (depending on which year you use as the cut-off), all I really remember about him is a few songs that I had to sing in primary school. Oh, and that he’d found religion and hung up his guitar.

The music started. The stage lights came up. Coggan hit the stage to whoops and yells from the crowd. These Boomers were pumped! But I was unclear about whether they were here for the festival of Cat or the cult of Coggan. Maybe both. When the opening strains of Moonshadow started up, the whistles were deafening and I fully expected  a sea of lighters to be flicked and held aloft. It was fascinating to see such uninhibited adoration from an older crowd.

Come on, I thought. Settle down, people! It’s just a guy and some musicians singing some old songs.

Remember, I was in a shitty mood.

The musicians did rock, though. They were a tight combo and obviously a talented bunch — Simone Kay (vocals), Mick Malouf (bass guitar) and Dale Allison (electric and acoustic guitars). Doug Gallacher on drums and percussion really held them together, and Naomi Coggan (Darren’s sister) on keyboards and piano accordion was the musical director.

By The First Cut is the Deepest, my feet were starting to tap and my head starting to nod in time with the music.

But it isn’t just Cat’s music. John Misto has created an engaging storyline of Cat’s life interspersed between and within the songs, and Darren Coggan energetically weaves the two together. At first he comes across a little too much like the overly polished and practiced television presenter he moonlights as. But by I Love My Dog, Mathew & Son and Lady D’arbanville I was lost in his storytelling. I could almost see Cat in his childhood room above a London restaurant, and his early forays into pop stardom thanks to his brother David.

By Wild World, Oh Very Young and Father and Son, I was whooping and stomping almost as fervently as the rest of the crowd.

And that was before interval.

The second act is a little more subdued as Coggan recounts Cat’s two near-death experiences, his search for meaning in life, and his ultimate discovery. The cohesive narrative uses The Wind, Hard Headed Woman, I Never Wanted to Be a Star, Sad Lisa, Morning Has Broken and so many other classics. I’d had no idea he’d written so many.

But now I know.

Needless to say, the State Theatre exploded at the end of the performance. Darren Coggan (along with his fellow musicians) and Cat Stevens are equal the stars of the show and both adored by this audience.

I eventually got home that night, changed into dry clothes, and curled up with my iPad to surf a YouTube loop of Cat Stevens. I’m now a convert to the cult of Cat and Coggan.

NOTE: To read Toni Carroll's blog, visit tonicarroll.wordpress.com