Reviewed by Georgia Cassimatis
Perusing the repertoire of world class singers featured in the hit one woman show DIVAS was an instant drawcard. One woman was going to sing the works of Kate Bush, Shirly Bassey, Karen Carpenter, Edith Piaf, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Barbara Streisand, Maria Callas, Amy Winehouse and Judy Garland. Ten singers, ten uniquely different styles. A one-stop musical shop as such? Superb!
Who better to pull this off than one of Australia’s powerhouse singing sensations Bernadette Robinson. Renowned for her previous sell out one woman shows: ‘Songs For Nobodies’ and ‘Pennsylvania Avenue’, even Barry Humphries was smitten, calling her a ‘major talent and a spellbinder’.
Both of which she is. In a two hour show, shortened versions of 30 hit songs were performed, interspersed with monologues derived from interviews conducted with each DIVA over their stellar careers.
Not only did Bernadette seamlessly manage the high energy levels required, but her ability to transform into each of the voices, from Dolly Parton’s southern drawl to Edith Piaf ‘s French, and Kate Bush’s high octane whimsical soprano, to belting out Shirley Bassey, was extraordinary.
The minimalist production also allowed for an intimacy. No sequins, ballgowns, fancy footwork or disco balls here. Just Bernadette in a black suit with a fantastic backup band honoring the voice, and the relationship each singer had to their voice. The three piece band lead by Musical Director Mark Jones on piano/keyboards, Jonathan Skovron on guitars/bass/ keyboards and Bryn Bowen on drums, did terrific musical arrangements and backing vocals.
Opening strong with the whispering tones of Kate Bush singing ‘Wow’ felt like a celebration to the DIVA concept: that Goddess like woman with an outstanding talent in the arts. Yet while there was this celebration of talent, the musings about their careers told the backstories of their own fears and frailties in life: a quality that is also part of being a DIVA: the chaos behind the talent.
In the case of Kate Bush, she is left saying we are all but a speck on the planet: ‘A tiny little thing’ of which we can ‘only do our best.’
Shirley Bassey’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, roared next, to loud applause. I learn that Bassey’s belief was: ‘Your voice isn’t a voice until your heart has been broken.’
The proudly ‘squeaky clean’ Diva by default, Karen Carpenter’s song ‘Close To You’ was beautiful. She wanted to be a drummer, before her true calling of singing and songwriting just ‘happened’ upon her, before her tragic end.
Edith Piaf ‘s ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’, were two favourites, along with Piaf’s strong belief that ‘a man can make conversation as much as he wants, but it is what he is like in bed that tells you who he really is.’
Singing Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ and ‘I will Always Love You’ in an American drawl was brilliant. Of note I did not realise the latter was a song she wrote to her ex-husband. Morphing into Dolly’s God Daughter Miley Cyrus, Bernadette presented ‘Wrecking Ball’ while also espousing Miley’s belief that ‘a voice is like a face: it collects wrinkles and tells stories’.
The Brooklyn accent when singing ‘Memories’ by Barbara Streisand was sensational. Barbara learnt that ‘performing is not about perfection, but about knowing that I am enough. It is about love.’
The brilliance of singing famous opera singer Maria Callas’s work Tosca’s Vissi d’arte was riveting. Combined with her declaring that she always felt ‘undefended all my life,’ while having to go out and sing, her powerful voice sang heart wrenchingly about tormented souls in deep despair; something of which would be her own fate.
Following this was her performance as Amy Winehouse, perfectly done in her distinct North London accent.
‘Song can always get me in a better mood you know?’ says Amy: a fan of the ‘doo wop’ era where lyrics were dramatic and got straight to the point, unlike today, which she espoused skirted around the edges. Singing ‘Back To Black’ felt eerie, knowing her fate.
All of which lead to a beautiful transition to Judy Garland’s ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, and ending as dramatically as the show started with ‘Let’s Get On With The Show!’ Garland said she had no friends in real life, that it was the stage where she felt all the love.
Directed by multi-award-winning Simon Phillips (Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, Love Never Dies, Muriel’s Wedding, The Musical), with a talented cast of musicians, the production was impeccable.
For ‘Ten Divas for the Price of One!’ check out: Sydney Opera House, Playhouse
August 3rd – August 20th