Friday, 6 February 2015

Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress - Playful Productions (4 February 2015)

You wouldn’t know it from a vantage point in Wolf Lane but tucked away in the upstairs reaches of the Cheeky Sparrow there’s some serious manipulation of time going on.

Yes, 1920’s girl Kitty from Davenport, Iowa is bouncing around the decades and having a helluva time along the way. We don’t know why this happens except that it started after Kitty’s mother died of pneumonia and her dad of a broken heart a few days later. But we don’t really care either - it is a smart device for performer Bobbie-Jean Henning to showcase an eclectic range of songs, wear a nice dress, and sport an American accent as she navigates different social mores, customs and musical styles while finding love and friendship along the way.

Henning proves to be a charming storyteller as she recounts Kitty’s experiences that take her from 1920s America to Paris in 1945, 1930’s London and 1962 Italy (amongst others) where there are brushes with the legendary Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. What grounds this though is the ultimately lost-in-time, tragic love story of her relationship with Toby; and a friendship with a woman named Lucy.

The 50 minute cabaret show began with Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy which is such an evocative song that set the mood nicely. Henning follows it with Corinne Bailey Rae’s Put Your Records On – a very good song – but the only one that didn’t seem linked to the time travelling conceit as it came early before the rhythms of the tale were fully established. While ‘Kitty’ was explaining her predicament it cast my mind to another small town girl dislocated not so much in time as in ‘dimensions’ yet Dorothy Gale was left in Oz though I do wonder what Henning would have made of Over the Rainbow.

Instead there was a part English, part French version of Windmills of Your Mind, a snippet of Summertime from Porgy and Bess; a raucous Cabaret; and amusingly a Frank Ifield song She Taught Me How to Yodel. The relationship with the writer Toby who Kitty met then lost then met again in London (uncontrolled time travel is a bitch when it comes to long-term relationships!) brought out the Sondheim in Kitty with Being Alive and a very emotional rendering of Losing My Mind as tragedy strikes.

A stint in California circa 1977 was always going to result in either a song from Hotel California or Rumours and it is indeed the latter though not the song you would expect as The Chain gets a slowed down workout. Henning is at her best when she lets her voice soar and Cry Me A River is a highlight. The Sia song Chandelier makes an appearance and even If My Friends Could See Me Now. An eclectic mix indeed!

The venue did Henning no favours as there were diners in the next room who could be clearly heard enjoying their boisterous conversations seemingly oblivious to our presence. This intruded in the quieter songs and linking stories but Henning kept her composure and focus admirably under less than favourable circumstances.

In all this was a most enjoyable performance and Henning has a lovely and versatile voice that the range of songs showed off to great effect. I also had the opportunity to have a chat afterwards and she was generous with her time and thoughts about the development of the show and experiences since graduating from WAAPA. It was a delightful evening cabaret show that in a more suitable venue could really soar. 

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