The Harbour City shivers with the last throws of winter as we scurry down the boardwalk towards the Opera House. There are also shivers of anticipation when one is about to see a performer who has been so unique and so impressive in past productions. The calibre of Bernadette Robinson’s talent is trumpeted by many but perhaps more so amongst her theatrical peers than the general public. While chatting with two patrons in the foyer before the show I discover they had no idea who Bernadette Robinson was? This must be remedied! The idea sent more shivers down my spine than the icy winds across the harbour, how is it this theatrical treasure is not one of our most loved and well known performers? Is it because Bernadette Robinson dissolves into the entities of the many Divas in her productions so well, we don’t get the chance to know her?
In the past she has collaborated with lauded play write Joanna Murray Smith, bringing us the hit shows Songs for Nobodies and Pennsylvania Avenue. Her latest offering is The Show Goes On and her collaborator and Director, this time, is Richard Carroll.
On entering the theatre a lone Microphone stands centre stage in a pin spot heralding this one woman show and the plethora of songs to come. The songs come in a retrospective avalanche of torch songs, power ballads, classic hits and arias. We meet, through Robinson’s detailed portrayals, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Patsy Cline, Julie Andrews, Shirley Bassey, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas. Ms Robinson springs from lily pad to lily pad of musical styles with extraordinary vocal athleticism.
Now in a city that seems addicted to Tribute shows I confess I am not a fan of the Neil Diamond Night or the Elvis Evening and have always scratched my head as to why a talented performer would want to spend there whole career emulating some one else. But this is no tribute show. Ms Robinson, while taking on the personas of the aforementioned divas is the thinking man’s chameleon. Quite the cut above any thing you will witness in this type of entertainment. The audience was clearly heard gasping as she traversed genres, keys, interpretations and idiosyncratic phrasing climbing to new regions with every transition. By the time Ms Robinson arrives at Maria Callas you are in the presence of an olympic proportion performance. Olympic as in gold medal and olympic as in Goddess.
The lighting designer Trent Suidgeest and the designer Lauren Peters have inventively collaborated to create a set defined by space and light. Though for most of the show there was an overzealous application of the smoke machine. The sound designer Nick Reich managed the many transitions from the various types of microphone seamlessly. The quality of the sound is superb enhancing the fine detail of the performance.
The Musical Direction by Martine Wengrow was Ms Robinson’s constant and steadfast companion. The musicians deftly taking the same varied musical journey. At times the underpinning music was a little distracting but overall the musical direction was a marvellous match for the superb vocalist.
There were a couple moments in the staging where Ms Robinson left the stage to grab a mic or remove shoes. This staging did not work for me. It unnecessarily broke the deep connection which had been forged between audience and performer. I would have been happy to see the shoes and the mic all done onstage. The dialogue linking the songs is well integrated and give the audience insight into the women behind the voices and their personal struggles.
I deeply enjoyed Songs For Nobodies which had a poignancy that is not as present in this production. But if you have never seen Bernadette Robinson on stage, this show is the perfect introduction to her. If you are general public and not an aficionado of music and the artists portrayed there may be some moments you feel slightly lost or confused, but trust all will be revealed. If you still don’t follow you will just been blown away by the enormous voice emanating from the tiny power house who is Bernadette Robinson. I predict a standing ovation every night. Highly recommended for music lovers.