BWW REVIEW: Bernadette Robinson Presents The Brushes With Fame That History Never Notes Down in SONGS FOR NOBODIES
Wednesday 29th January 2020, 7:30pm, Playhouse Sydney Opera House
Bernadette Robinson, who has built a reputation as a vocal chameleon able to recreate the sound of the 20th century divas, brings back her solo show SONGS FOR NOBODIES for another season at the Sydney Opera House. The work, written by Joanna Murray-Smith, and directed by Simon Phillips is part fiction, part fact and purely fabulous.
On a bulb bordered circular stage backed by a LED illuminated contemporary proscenium arch, Robinson shares five stories of ordinary, normally forgettable and 'invisible' women who had a brush with outstanding singers with whom they share some form of connection. The rear arc of the stage includes an assortment of black painted furniture including a well-stocked cabinet housing a range of drinking paraphernalia. As with Robinson's other works, THE SHOW GOES ON and PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE the costuming remains simple, this time with a black peplum jacket, sheath skirt and sensible heels allowing transitions to new stories to easily occur with the reliance on changes in voice and physicality.
Beatrice Ethel Appleton, a washroom attendant at the Plaza Hotel in New York, finds herself fixing the hem of fellow Grand Rapids Minesota export Francis Ethel Gumm, better known as Judy Garland, on the evening of Judy's famous Carnegie Hall concert on April 23rd 1961. Backing vocalist Pearl Avalon recounts the start of her career when Patsy Cline asked for the Kansas City Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall usher to be her backing singer for the benefit concert for "Cactus" Jack Cali on March 3rd 1963, an event which would be Patsy's last performance before her death returning home to Tennessee after the concerts. While Edie Delamotte a posh voiced Englishwoman from somewhere outside Nottingham never personally met Edith Piaf, the half French school librarian owes her existence to the "The Little Sparrow" and her band who helped smuggle Delmotte's father out of a German prisoner of war camp in 1943, something she was recorded as doing on a number of occasions, and so visits the museum in Piaf's 11th Arrondissement apartment every two years. Gwendolyn "Too Junior" Jones, the most driven of the five 'nobodies', is a New York Times journalist given the opportunity to prove herself worth of more than the fashion pages with the task of interviewing Billie Holiday in 1947, sometime in the days before she'd be arrested for narcotics possession. Finally, 19 year old Irish Nanny Orla McDonagh is onboard Aristotle Onassis' 'Christina O' to witness the first flourishes of the famous affair between the Greek tycoon and opera diva Maria Callas, but not before Ari makes a pass at the bewildered country girl.
Robinson's recreation of Garland, Cline, Piaf, Holiday and Callas famous sounds is uncanny and her flexibility at swapping between characters, often expressing two sides of a conversation, is incredible. Murray-Smith has infused enough truth into the stories and when paired with Robinson's delivery, they have a genuine believability that Appleton, Avalon, Delamotte, Jones and McDonagh could have really existed and connected with these great women, if only briefly. SONGS FOR NOBODIES is a fabulous premise for a piece of theatre and Bernadette Robinson's ability to bring it to life is a treat not to be missed as she delivers faithful recreations that if you shut your eyes, you could imagine you are listening to the originals.