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Theatre Review: Pennsylvania Avenue

by Joanna Murray-Smith

Starring Bernadette Robinson

Director Simon Phillips

Sydney Opera House Playhouse until May 22

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

At the outset, I will admit to having been a fan of Bernadette Robinson’s work since the 1980s. That said, her last production, Songs For Nobodies was very dialogue-heavy and the same playwright is involved in this latest work, Pennsylvania Avenue. Thankfully, this time, there is an equal emphasis on the music and I would like to see it featured even more in future productions. After all, we’re really there to witness Robinson’s unique abilities, and the dialogue should only serve as a segue to tie the songs together in a logical sequence. If you want to see only acting in a one-woman show, you could go to Blonde Poison in The Studio.

Harper Clements, from Thunderbolt, Georgia, is a White House aide who is in the process of retiring and she reflects on her forty years serving Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and finally, Dubya. Connecting these reminiscences are the songs of the eras, with more focus on the Kennedy period and post Kennedy.

This one-woman show, complete with a live band, is an imaginative vehicle for showcasing the immense talents of Bernadette Robinson who starts off with the famous Marilyn Monroe rendition of Happy Birthday Mr President.

From there, we see such performers as Maria Callas and Barbra Streisand. There is an extremely credible Eartha Kitt and Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross sings I Hear A Symphony, Aretha Franklin belts out Respect, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (more the Mary Travers version than Roberta Flack) is both moving and haunting, Peggy Lee does Fever and even Tammy Wynette performs Stand By Your Man. Robinson also does the Bob Dylan version of Eve of Destruction. Every song is powerful due to the performer’s amazing talent at singing and impersonation, her versatility and stage presence.

Just as I would go out to see any Robert De Niro or Al Pacino film, I would go out to experience any production that features the extraordinary Bernadette Robinson. Purely because of her, I highly recommend Pennsylvania Avenue currently playing at the Sydney Opera House.

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