Bernadette Robinson debuted her solo show, Divas, last June, in a tour that included Sydney Opera House. It was, excuse the pun, a resounding success. She returns with the same proxy cast of ten fabulous divas for an encore season, this time at Riverside Parramatta.
Robinson created the show with Simon Phillips (Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, Love Never Dies, Muriel’s Wedding the Musical) who also directs. The germ of the idea came about after Robinson performed her sell-out, one-woman shows: Pennsylvania Avenue, The Show Goes On and Songs For Nobodies. Those shows were predominantly spoken monologue and audience feedback was invariably “ we want more songs!”
So Robinson and Phillips sat down and put together a list of fabulous singers who are/were unique and iconic.
“They have to be great singers in my view, because it’s a bit boring for me to sing their songs if I don’t admire them and love them,” says Robinson. “And they have to be as different as they can so I can really stretch and play with my own vocal dexterity and to make it more interesting for the audience.”
The final ten divas represent pinnacles of female vocal supremacy from the last century. They are: Edith Piaf, Amy Winehouse, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Maria Callas, Kate Bush, Dolly Parton, Karen Carpenter, Miley Cyrus and Judy Garland.
To say the scope is broad and varied is an understatement. From the bird-like warble of Edith Piaf to the booming crescendos of Shirley Bassey to the other-worldly squeals of Kate Bush — and everything in between — Robinson showcases not only the best and most unique singers of the last hundred years, but also her own extraordinary talent.
Between each song, Robinson performs a monologue in the voice and character of the respective singers. The scripts are compiled from real interviews each artist has given over the years, with phrases hand-picked to reflect some aspect of that artist or their life.
“The whole [concept] is about these women trying to find their voice and what it means to them, their own identity, how important and essential the voice is and how that relates to the audience and what that means to them as well. So it’s all about their psyche as a singer, really,” Robinson explains.
Listening and watching hours of interviews, Robinson learned how important the voice is and how it is impacted by emotion and trauma.
“That example of Shirley Bassey hearing her daughter had drowned, and how then she just lost her voice for six months,” Robinson cites.
If the singing styles of these artists is vastly different, their speaking voices are arguably even more so. Kate Bush has a sweet, soft voice and pronounces her “r’s” as “w’s”. Amy Winehouse is pure cockney, Dolly Parton has a southern drawl and so on down the list. It’s a lot to think about, especially when transitioning from one diva to the next.
“I think the ones that sing out loud are easier because you can just go for it, but once you have to get that control back and keep a fine quality and a good line in your tone, that’s where it gets tricky. So, going from Bassey to small Karen Carpenter, that transition is the hardest… and the other one is going from belting Miley Cyrus down to Streisand and ’The Way We Were’.”
Robinson’s remarkable three-piece backing band helps make some transitions easier by playing a few bars of the next song while Robinson collects herself, but she is pretty much in perpetual motion for the intermission-less 90 minute show.
If you want your money’s worth and want to witness unbelievable talent, see Divas and experience ten legends via the channeling prowess of one.
Feb 15 – 17
Riverside Theatres, Cnr Church & Market Sts, Parramatta