Time for chance tunes

Songs of a Time Travelling Songstress (Playful Productions)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

June 11

In her debut show, rising cabaret star Bobbie-Jean Henning inhabits the character of Kittie, an American woman born in 1912. One morning, she awakens in 1937 and from there she starts to involuntarily time travel back and forth between 20th century decades and locations. “Tales of A Time Travelling Songstress” weaves together the singer’s time-travelling episodes through song, taking audience members along on a ride from a 1945 Paris tainted by post-war grief to the beauty of an early 1930s English summer.

This is where she meets romantic interest Toby, with whom she forms a deep connection until they are tragically separated. This affords inclusion of a memorable, vulnerable rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’, longing for someone with whom to share life. Indeed, it is within the emotional numbers that Henning shines. From the moment she begins with Nat King Cole’s evocative ballad ‘Nature Boy, the warmth of her easy-listening style is apparent. And when it is followed by Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Put Your Records on’, she shares a delicate vocal touch in juxtaposition to its soaring moments.

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More upbeat numbers come courtesy of, in the first instance, ‘Life is a Cabaret’. While it showcases the talent of accompanist Benjamin Kiehne, there are moments when Henning’s delivery is distractingly breathy. The same is so during her yodel-oh-ee-deeing delivery of the jarring number, ‘She taught me how to yodel.’

The sometimes random song inclusions within the show’s eclectic song list serve to highlight the convenience of its loose narrative concept, especially when time periods as characterised often by only one chance musical number. When Kittie trips to the 1990s, to a tongue-in-cheek ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ from “Sweet Charity” is not only an overly-ambitious selection, but unsettles the cohesion of the show as a whole, especially when followed by Ella Fitzgerald’s jazzy blues ballad ‘Cry Me a River’. And the same is so in her discovery of disco ‘Young Hears Run Free’/’Turn the Beat Around’ medley, regardless of its tambourine accompaniment.

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Despite its jumbled cohesion, “Tales of a Time Travelling Songstress” has come a long way since its first Brisbane visit. And staging adds much to the experience, enhanced as it is by projection of organic, sketched images of key ideas and motifs. Like a musical “The Age of Adaline” this time travelling tale is plentiful with charm and charisma thanks to its talented jazz performer.

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