BWW 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.