Ralph McAllister reports on an electrifying performance from Ali Harper.
There might be a bigger star in our New Zealand theatrical firmament than Ali Harper, but in all my considerable years, I haven’t met another.
This woman keeps pushing the boundaries of talent, with constant displays of astonishing versatility and brilliance.
In Songs for Nobodies, her latest show at Circa Theatre, she electrifies her first night audience with renditions of five tragically talented women, all of whom died tragically young.
Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf , Billie Holiday and Maria Callas are all shared with us through songs such as Strange Fruit, Come Rain or Shine, Vissi D’ Arte, Amazing Grace, and Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.
Acknowledging a world class vocalist
Shared, I might add, with a breathtaking degree of accuracy both vocally and physically, which makes one begin to ponder, is there anything that this star of Harper cannot attain?
The standing ovation at the end of this 90 minute show was as deserved as any I have witnessed in years.
All of this to make sure you see this wonderful artist somewhere on her national tour or you pop over to New York later in the year to see how the show goes down there.
Did the show need the nobodies?
And now the negatives.
Each of the artists is introduced by a nobody who describes her life-changing encounters.
There’s the rub.
The nobodies may have their interesting stories but, am sorry, if you introduce us to a performer like Garland, with whom do you want to go on spending the evening?
Garland or the nobody?
If Piaf materialises in front of your eyes who do you want to stay listening to? The nobody?
The talented writer Joanna Murray – Smith, whose last work Switzerland was presented to acclaim earlier this year at Circa, never quite calms my irritation at the constant focus and over written soliloquies of the nobodies.
The show structure doesn’t work
Murray-Smith sets herself a major challenge, and fails.
My complaint is, firstly, with the structure of the show. It doesn’t work.
It is not helped by Harper’s often inaudible and over elaborate accents.
Clarity in Circa’s unforgiving acoustic is often not achieved and needs further work on the dialogue delivery.
A strangely under-lit staging didn’t help, and I saw no reason why the excellent professional trio of drums, piano and bass needed to be hidden from our view.
My nobodies story is, begging to usher, unpaid, at our local cinema when I was fourteen so that I could watch fourteen performances in a week of Garland’s A Star is Born.
And I missed seeing Callas by two days as she cancelled performances of Tosca at Covent Garden.
And I was in London when Judy died.
You see as Murray – Smith knows, we all have our memories.
But give me the real stars first and last, particularly when realised by our own Star of Harper.
See this memorable set of performances.