Torch Songs (Mama Alto)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio
November 23 – 26
“Torch Songs” is not a fun drag queen lip sync show. This is evident not just from Mama Alto’s own admission but, in fact, from the moment the gender transcendent diva and jazz singer statuesquely slides on to the stage, hair clustered with gardenias, to open the cabaret show with the legendary Billie Holiday’s ‘Blues are Brewin’.
The self-confessed big Melbourne star is compelling performer with a versatile countertenor voice as she tributes vintage torch singers of the Ella Fitzgerald sort (torch songs meaning usually ballads sung by the great divas in share of their strong emotions of desire or loss).
In Della Reese’s ‘Stormy Weather’, her textured voice is stylish, seductive and full of emotion. Similarly, when she flawlessly shares a melody of Sarah Vaughan’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ inset with Roberta Flack’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, it makes for a captivating experience, bringing tears to some eyes, such is pure and heartfelt honesty of its beauty. As notes are lingered lovingly for savour by songstress and audience alike, there is no denying both the lusciousness of her vocal textures and the superbness of her vocal control, whether in belting out an ending or favouring distinction and delicacy.
When we indulge her in performance of Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’, we are rewarded with a sublime experience that entrances all. And a late-show share of ‘Songbird’ showcases her intuitive delivery of both lyric and melody, serving as a highlight in its musical mashup with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, courtesy of collaborator and Musical Directress Miss Chief’s perfect piano accompaniment. Having worked together for seven years, the duo have a natural, witty banter with each other and the audience alike, full of fun but also mutual respect. It is an appreciation that is also shown for all songs, even when ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ becomes an audience sing-along.
“Torch Songs” is a spellbinding experience thanks to the exceptional talent of its star. This may be Mama Alto’s first solo show in Brisbane (she also appeared at 2015’s Wonderland Festival as part of the Glory Box ensemble), but you have to hope it will not be her last. Beyond her mastery of jazz standards, she sings with such dramatic power and interpretive depth that the result is an unforgettable, absolutely beguiling experience of musical magic in which to marvel.