15 October, Spiegeltent, HBAF18 By Gill Duncan
Tonight is the opening of the Festival!
This award-winning show is sold out and you can tell, the queue is a two to four people wide out from the Spiegeltent, under the fabulous teepee forecourt and beyond: funneling in from the real world and leaving it behind. These are the fabulous every-bodies of Hawke’s Bay, chatting and about to be cultured…further.
Buzz, says the crowd.
Jamie elegantly introduces, announcing the three support live musicians who begin and immediately we relax into the warmth and sensuality of gentle jazz in the hands of masters, and an excellent sound system.
Walking in, without drawing undue attention, Ali Harper is plainly dressed in an unremarkable frock from the forties. She stands still. Expectations rise in the audience and suddenly she begins what is a journey through five stories from the Everyman-perspective of the divas they have stumbled up against and been forever changed by.
The feeling is Jazz Club; real intimacy with clever lighting that focuses us in.
The Spiegeltent surrounds and embraces us all. The audience is laughing, enrapt while responding to clever writing that explores the “immodesty of human suffering”, comparing lives prosaic, ordinary, real and their heroine’s star-spangled tragic success.
Ali’s voice is a force of nature in its size and impact, in fact sonorous! It’s a fantastic instrument she plays so incredibly well, evoking each scene. One minute she’s belting out a forties classic – in my imagination I am in Carnegie Hall, two blocks south of Central Park, New York City – the next she raises the hairs on the back of my neck with the sweetness and purity of Amazing Grace sung by a young and gauche usherette out the back of a nothing theatre, nowhere. She describes dust motes and I can see them.
Each woman’s story is delivered convincingly; her changes of characters really work with accents bringing humour and credibility. The individuals are easy to distinguish. But it’s mainly through gesture, slight changes of posture and positioning on stage and via her immensely skilled vocal chords. The costume, hair and makeup remain virtually the same.
Billie Holiday is delivered first through dialogue. Rich and smoky, the voice is so clever, painting a picture of a jaded star used up by the industry, and then Ali sings her and my breath is taken away. Chills.
I realise that, through her wonderful artistry, Ali is bringing these huge stars to us, close up and personal. She is making them available and real, bringing them back to life, into our lives. Actually!
There’s lots of dialogue, one nanny too much for me, but the singing is worth every line, Judy Garland’s vibrato is superb. Several of the audience loved the last song the best, Maria Callas, no easy act to follow let alone try to reenact. Beautifully done.
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