Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress (Playful Productions)
Coorparoo Secondary College, Auditorium
Just as it is the spice of life, variety is the key to cabaret. And by premise alone, “Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress” has much to offer in this regard, as it promises to tell the stories of a recently-returned cabaret singer forced to travel through time, meeting great people and surviving on charisma, charm and her singing chops.
From this loose narrative, the audience is taken on a non-linear journey through decades of the 20th century, from settings as diverse as Paris in 1945, to the 1970s, where music is as much like a drug as, well, drugs, through to the boy band horror that was the 1990s. Along the way our time-travelling songstress (writer/creator Bobbie-Jean Henning) has met notable figures like Ella Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire and Marilyn Monroe; yet it is her personal tale of love’s joy and sorrow that is the most engaging and actually in want of a little further explanation, beyond just the details provided in the emotion of the songs, with the exception of ‘I Think About You’, which is a standout emotional climax to the story.
“Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress” is a show filled with possibility that could easily take its place at any cabaret festival. With a more stylised, darker aesthetic it could be well-suited to a sultry-lit artistic den such as Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre for a late night show. Henning has a beautiful voice and the show’s repertoire is selected to showcase this. There are moments, such as in her resounding delivery of Stephen Sondeheim’s ‘Being Alive’ from the musical “Company”, where you will want to just close your eyes and be taken away with the melody, however, the interruption of some song momentums with overly dramatic characterisation, is sometimes a distraction. Unlike musical theatre, in this instance, it is beauty of sound that is the ideal, more than characterisation and though humour has its place in songs such as ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ from “Sweet Charity”, sometimes stripping a song to its simplest form with just piano and voice can be enough
As has become a hallmark of the modern cabaret scene, “Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress” contains new arrangements for many of its songs, including an ambitious finale choice in Sia’s ‘Chandelier’. And Henning does a commendable job in every instance; from her controlled and haunting opening rendition of Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’, there is little doubt that the audience is in good hands, thanks to her sublime control and vocal elegance. Indeed, in such capable hands, “Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress” is a treasure of a show that will surely be going on to be bigger and better with each trip.