Performed by Bernadette Robinson
Director Simon Phillips
Producer Harley Medcalf
Sydney Opera House Playhouse until August 20
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Admittedly, I’ve been a fan since the 1980s.
Bernadette Robinson's new stage show, Divas, has opened in Sydney.
Her amazing talent and range makes Robinson the ultimate tribute artist, She opens with Kate Bush before transitioning to Shirley Bassey, Karen Carpenter, Edith Piaf, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Maria Callas, Amy Winehouse and Judy Garland.
On the cyclorama are images of the ten performers and we unconsciously cross each one off as they’re performed. When Robinson pushes up her tits, we know that its time for Dolly Parton and that Jolene is coming.
In the transitions, Robinson, in character, briefly chats with the audience to provide some background. This is where her acting chops come in.
As a child, Kate Bush was known as “Cathy”, and her hit song, Wuthering Heights, is largely autobiographical. In 1978 I just appreciated its ethereal and surreal atmosphere and now it prompted me to listen with new ears and take to notice of the lyrics. The same thing happened when I learnt the meaning of A Whiter Shade of Pale.
The Shirley Bassey (This Is My Life) and Maria Callas sets are goosebump-inducing.
The newer tributes are to Karen Carpenter (Top of the World and We’ve Only Just Begun), Miley Cyrus (Wrecking Ball) and Amy Winehouse (Back to Black).
Robinson’s Judy Garland and Edith Piaf have always been my favourites by far, and you could be watching and listening to each of those show business legends on stage. In fact, I’d happily see a Bernadette Robinson show that features only those two.
In her last two shows, Songs For Nobodies and Pennsylvania Avenue, there was a scriptwriter who seemed to want to make the dialogue the star of the show rather than to use the script as segues between the songs to set them up and to enhance the overall experience.
In Divas, director Simon Phillips has this time given us a plain black set, a guitarist (Jonathan Skovron), a drummer (Graham Hunt) and a keyboard player/Musical Director (Mark Jones). Robinson’s only costume is a black pants suit. With that minimalism, Robinson’s acting and amazing singing talents are relied upon to do the heavy lifting. It gives the production a certain purity and we can focus and appreciate the characterisations, the acting and the performance of the songs.
For that reason, Divas is my favourite Bernadette Robinson show since the first one that I saw in the eighties.