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Songs For Nobodies

Bernadette Robinson in full song. Pic by Jeff Busby

A toilet cleaner fixes the dress for Judy Garland. A backup singer helps out Patsy Cline. A librarian worships her father and The Little Prince, whose lives obviously were saved by Edith Piaf? A junior journalist with the NY Times gets Billy Holiday to talk. A nanny on board of an Onassis Yacht contemplates if she should give in to the owner’s sleazy request to become his next Maria Callas.  'Songs For Nobodies' sung by big-bodies. No, impersonated by the incredible vocal abilities of Bernadette Robinson!

'Songs For Nobodies' starts promisingly with a tirade of witty reflections about the importance of happiness and ends with a scene where Robinson finally is allowed to let her hair down and shows how wonderful she can sing.

What remains is the question: What is this all about? The author, Joanna Murray-Smith, rose to fame with her hilariously intriguing show 'Bombshells'. She recently followed up its success with the dazzling, glitzy and hip 'Rockabye'. However, in this work the stories of the five, even not loosely connected, characters seem dull and  monotonous. For me it was quite difficult to ad hoc connect with the all too sudden change of personalities and accents.

The Artistic Director of the MTC, Simon Philips, contracted Murray-Smith to write this show and tailor it around Bernadette Robinson’s signature singing. Contracted scripts are always tricky. The author has to work with ideas, themes and structures that are not conceived by her/his creative imagination. Maybe this is why the stage only starts to sparkle when Robinson sings. And she does this on a very high level.

When you close your eyes Judy Garland is in the same room with you. Patsy Cline lulls you with her country ballads. Billy Holiday sits right at the end of the bar and wraps her smoky voice around you.  With Non, 'Je Ne Regrette Rien' Robinson resurrects Edith Piaf brilliantly. Only when she attempts Maria Callas the bench mark seems too high. 'Vissi d’arte' from Puccini’s opera Tosca cannot be impersonated. It needs to be conquered with the abilities of your own voice. However, when Robinson sings there is light. When she acts one wonders if it is the direction by Simon Philips that does not let her shine or the dullness of the monologues.

The four piece band, led by Musical Director Ian McDonald is effective and proves that live music still is not just an ingredient but essential for any musical show.

The biggest question mark lies with Andrew Bailey’s set and costume design. It is black as black can be. Hold on! Is that the missing connection between the five characters and their brush with singers who all were touched by tragedy? This just does not work, leaves a taste of funeral parlour behind and does not allow any atmosphere.

This means that Bernadette Robins has to carry the show solemnly on her own shoulders. She does this with aplomb with her incredible vocal abilities and she has the aura of a true star.

Part of the audience cheers her with a well-deserved standing ovation. I applaud her and wish we can see her taking the stage with her own voice. I believe that would  be extraordinary and unforgettable.

'Songs For Nobodies' is playing at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House until 19th  August, 2011.

Review by Markus Weber  - 7 August 2011. Copyright  EMU Productions (theatre & music) and Sydney Arts Guide.

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