Wilton’s Music Hall, London – until 7 April 2018
Fearing ‘yet another’ one-woman show about Judy Garland, I almost missed out on Songs for Nobodies, but three things conspired to make it rather special.
First, the actress in the role, ‘world famous in Australia’ Bernadette Robinson has an extraordinary voice which is as well-matched to Garland’s shaky vibrato as it is to Patsy Cline’s weighted diction or Piaf’s nasal resonance. Technically, these are extremely fine renditions.
Second, it has a proper script. Unlike the random linkages you’d expect from an impressionist, there’s a story with each diva matched by an everyday woman with whom she’s come into contact – a powder room attendant sews up a fallen hem for Garland, an usherette becomes a backing singer for Cline and the linkage between a polite and prim librarian from Nottingham with France’s ravaged little sparrow is very cleverly built, all by the marvellous Aussie novelist and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. If you have not read her Sunnyside, I urge you to snap it up on Amazon.
Third, something remarkable has happened to the acoustics at Wilton’s Music Hall and, on a tilted stage and with a marvellous but restrained three-piece band, you can hear every word.
Two-thirds of this show is outstanding, you believe the stories and enjoy the musical numbers. Where it starts to lose its way, though, is when Robinson plays an ambitious young journalist whose promotion at the New York Times depends on her interview with a reluctant Billie Holliday. ‘Too Junior’ Jones, the journo, is far more interesting than the drink and drug addled Lady Day, and I wanted the story to just take off and follow her until she turned into Martha Gellhorn or something.
Although Robinson’s soprano voice is strong, and engaging, and clear, it’s unwise for any actress to try to mimic Maria Callas whose technique sprang from a completely different source than musical theatre. Even in Master Class they used Callas’ own recordings and neither Tyne Daly nor Patti LuPone attempted to out-sing La Divina.
until 7 April