Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2018: YMA SUMAC - THE PERUVIAN SONGBIRD: ALI MCGREGOR, at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

Review: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2018: YMA SUMAC - THE PERUVIAN SONGBIRD: ALI MCGREGOR, at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Petra Schulenburg, Thursday 14th June 2018.

Ali McGregor has been an extremely busy woman. Not only is she the artistic director of this year's Adelaide Cabaret Festival but she has researched, written, and gives a stunning performance in Yma Sumac - The Peruvian Songbird, as part of her own Festival programme.

Yma Sumac was one of the highest selling recording artists for Capitol Records in the US in the 1950s, but few people today have even heard of her.

Born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo around 1923, in a village high in the Andes near the northern border of Peru, Yma, as she was later known, rose to fame in her native country signing Peruvian folk songs. Managed, Svengali style, by her husband, composer, and musical director, Moises Vivanco, she toured South America, Mexico and, eventually, the US, only to be 'discovered' by Capitol Records and re-fashioned, Hollywood style, to suit post-war American tastes for the exotic. Launched as The Peruvian Songbird, Yma had an astonishing five-octave range and a unique, otherworldly vocal style, which is still sampled today in everything from pop and lounge music, to movie soundtracks and TV advertisements.

Few artists would have the voice or skill to even attempt to sing Sumac's songs, let alone own them as completely as McGregor does. Ranging from deep, earthshaking bass to dizzying, sky-scraping high notes there are not enough superlatives to describe Mc Gregor's voice, or how listening to it makes you feel right in the core of your being. Completely exhilarating.

And Mc Gregor has certainly done her homework. One might almost be able to accuse her of stalking, had Yma not passed away in 2008. She flew to Los Angeles to meet with Sumac's one-time personal assistant and now inheritor and protector of her legacy. Naturally, Mc Gregor has recordings of her music but, at the end of her show, she also shares some film footage and several of her favourite photographs of Yma, both personal as well as publicity stills. Everything about this show leaves us in no doubt of Mc Gregor's very real reverence for Yma Sumac's life story and legacy, for her enormous talent, and her extraordinary voice, as well as for her clothes, jewellery, perfume, and even her underwear!

Mc Gregor is joined on stage by Mikelangelo (of the Black Sea Gentleman fame), who plays Yma's husband, Moises, and also by Lily Paskas, who plays her cousin, Cholita, both characters that had a huge impact on Sumac's life. The whole show is backed up by a 6-piece band "with a really killer brass section" playing fantastic mambo music, but also providing the soundscape and backdrop to Yma's unfolding narrative. The set design, by Kathryn Sproul, evokes Incan design elements, and mirrors one of Sumac's own set designs, as seen in later photos. Grainy archival footage of Peru and Sumac are also projected onto the set to aid in the storytelling, and the lighting design, by Paul Lim, works beautifully to transport the audience across time and space. Other members of the creative team include director, Cameron Menzies, musical director, Sam Keevers, and sound designer, Russel Goldsmith, but the show belongs absolutely and undeniably to Ali McGregor.

McGregor herself refers to this show and her relationship to Yma Sumac as "a kind of love story between fantasy and reality". At the end of this performance, the opening night audience gave McGregor a well-deserved standing ovation, which moved her deeply. A labour of love, Ali McGregor has clearly invested her heart and soul in this show and it is extraordinary, as is she.

VOICES OF A SIREN Hong Kong Performance Comes to Adelaide Fringe 2023 Photo
Award-winning solo performance about women over three generations. A mystic siren calls out from distant shores to take the audience on an astral journey of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The awakening of the feminine within through monologues, dance, chanting, and live music liberates a past bondage and leads to spiritual metamorphosis.

HAVE YOU TRIED BRAIN SURGERY? Comes to Adelaide Fringe Photo
Following on from the success of Chase The Fun Stuff (2018), I See Dead People (2020) and A History of Hanky Panky (2021), KC brings her fourth solo show – “Have You Tried Brain Surgery??” – to Adelaide Fringe in 2023. 

John-Luke Roberts Brings Two Shows To Adelaide Festival Photo
One of UK comedy's left-field geniuses is making his Adelaide debut. John-Luke Roberts arrives in South Australia, carrying a selection of props whose transportation costs almost guarantee and overall loss. With not one, but two huge, critically-acclaimed shows in his back pocket. And, not to alarm you, but he's about to move them to his front pocket and then get them out of his pocket altogether.

Holden Street Theatres Presents the Australian Premiere of JESUS, JANE MOTHER & ME Photo
Holden Street Theatres, celebrating 20 years in 2023, is proud to present the Australian premiere of Jesus, Jane Mother & Me to play during the 2023 Adelaide Fringe in The Studio at 34 Holden Street Hindmarsh from 11 February to 19 March. Jesus, Jane Mother & Me is Holden Street Theatres' 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Award Winner.

From This Author - Barry Lenny

Review: A PROMENADE OF SHORTS 2 at Holden Street TheatresReview: A PROMENADE OF SHORTS 2 at Holden Street Theatres
January 13, 2023

Red Phoenix has found a winning formula with their Festival of Shorts.

Review: RING IN THE NEW - ADELAIDE CANTATA BAND at Pilgrim Uniting ChurchReview: RING IN THE NEW - ADELAIDE CANTATA BAND at Pilgrim Uniting Church
January 7, 2023

The calibre of the musicians was undoubted.

Review: THE MOUSETRAP at Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide Festival CentreReview: THE MOUSETRAP at Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
January 4, 2023

Robyn Nevin has assembled a great cast and neatly captured the style of the era.

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival CentreReview: HAIRSPRAY at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
January 1, 2023

This is a highly entertaining evening of theatre

December 12, 2022

I’ve just seen the future of musical theatre in Adelaide.