Tuesday, June 19, 2018

TOM WAITS FOR NO MAN


Tom Waits For No Man.

Directed by Ali McGregor. Musical direction by Charly Zastrau. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The Adelaide Festival Centre. June 17 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins



Tom Waits may not be everyone’s man. The growl is legendary. The poor and bedraggled, the seedy and the down and out inhabit his world. There may be bats in the belfry and brawlers in the bar but in Waits’ world we are innocent when we dream. Tom Waits For No Man is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s tribute to the music and songs of a musician, composer, actor and avant-garde icon to the melancholic, the philosophic and the maverick. Hosted by Mikelangelo and directed by Ali McGregor, Tom Waits For No Man features a number of artists to reinterpret the songs, embodying the soul and spirit of  a legend but endowing his unique gift with an universal truth.

Mikelangelo. Photo by Claudio Rascella
That is why I found it difficult to grasp this tribute’s true intent, and I suspect that was partly due to the limited rehearsal time. Individually Waits was done proud by the outstanding artists, cabaret luminaries in their own right, but, although there was an attempt to capture the atmosphere of Waits’ music in the set with its assorted backdrop of instruments and objects on a wire frame and a video screen to project footage of Waits acting roles, the singers presented as their individual cabaret personas .It took a leap of faith to see past Mikelangelo’s Balkan Elvis to his forceful opening rendition of You’re Innocent When You Dream  or Butt Kapinski’s film noir detective sneaking through the audience to Tom Waits’ What the Hell Is He Building There? His running gag is the dark mystery of the sad clown. 

Butt Kapinski. Photo by Claudio Raschella
Now don’t get me wrong. These are excellent interpreters of their genre, and maybe they are reinterpreting Waits in their own image. His influence assumes cult status and these performers are his devoted acolytes. But I am momentarily unnerved by a presence that is not Waits but themselves. Perhaps that’s the point, or is it merely a convenient condition of limited rehearsal time together?  After all it was only the night before that Mikelangelo met the enigmatic Joey Arias. I would rather believe that Tom Waits and Ali McGregor’s tribute do not seek to change who a person is but rather empower them to become the person they want to be. Audiences are left to make of Waits what they may
Queenie van de Zandt. Photo: Claudio Raschella
No such confusion existed with the band. In the shadows, except for exceptional musical director, Charly Zastrau on piano, the musicians imbued the performance with the sombre mood of whisky soaked bars and the lonely atmosphere of darkly lit streets.
All outward confusion aside, McGregor’s artists find the poet’s voice. Queenie van de Zandt’s Chocolate Jesus rings with religious irony. McGregor’s Ice Cream Man edges dangerously on the double entendre, where innocence falls prey to darker intent. The pain and anger of Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis is given Carla Lippis’s manic force in her volcanic rendition. Joey Arias, compelling in his presence, sings the strained agony of the lonely heart in This One’s From The Heart. 
Joey Arias. Photo: Claudio Raschella

 All reservations fade in the emotive power of the tribute. Waits’ lyrics echo with the voices of the disenchanted and opponents to jingoistic peril as the full company launches into a stirring, defiant rendition of Kathleen Brennan and Waits’ Hoist That Rag. Escape from Life’s stark reality lulls its way into Midnight Lullaby and the recurring theme of innocence in dreams. When life is too hard and it’s ten below and you’re far from home, you’ve got to Hold On sings Mikelangelo, a closing note of survival in a programme that pays tribute to Tom Waits’ unique and influential view of a world. McGregor’s amazing company of artists rejoice in their labour of love. Their interpretation of Waits’ gift to the music world is their own, seen through the prism of Waits’ profound lyrics. The audience, devotees or novices, fortunate enough to see this one night stand, left Tom Waits For No Man richer for the experience.  

CAST A DARK SHADOW - CARLA LIPPIS

Cast A Dark Shadow.  Carla Lippis

The Festival Theatre Stage. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 15-16 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Carla Lippis performs Cast A Dark Shadow at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival



 Grab onto your chairs. You're in for a wild ride. Carla Lippis slinks onto stage like a cat about to claw its prey. In a clinging black jump suit and with dark painted eyes beneath her Louise Brooks hairstyle, Lippis is demoniacal in her contorted menace. Her audience is her prey and she casts her net wide to entrap the fascination and lure the unsuspecting into her world of shadows and frenzy.Her voice is the steel trap that holds the mesmerized audience in her lair, a beast lurking in the shadows of punk, bursting into the enticing lyrical or circling with the Siren's original voice or full throated growl.

"Scary is the new sexy" Lippis says as she enters the audience to tease and confront, scare and weave her seductive spell across the space. On stage her band builds to a frenzy, and pianist, Victoria Falconer magically plays the theramyne, sending the notes into a shrill air. and drawing then back to a melodic note that lingers tantalizingly before again being cast into the light. It is the first time that I have seen musicians use the theramyne to entice emotions and send them spinning across the stage.It's power is pervasive. Lippis moves as one possessed and her voice rises from deep below to sound the cry of rebellion and defiance. 

Cabaret is the voice of the outcasts, the underdogs, the marginalized and the outrageous individual rebels against conformity. Lippis is their grand priestess, an icon of defiance and devilry, scaring the conservative, frightening the judgemental and singing out for those who have no voice.
But cabaret is also more than gesture, more than an attitude wrapped in rebellion. It is the language of the song, singing upon the music of the band. In the intimacy of the Festival Theatre stage, I was absorbed by the theatre, the presence, the voice, but the lyrics blurred, lost in the sheer dynamism of Lippis's performance. The key to attitude, to theme and message was swallowed in her sound. Lippis is an unique and dynamic performer. I only wish I had better understood the lyrics to understand the message of her song.  

To see Lippis is to imagine the possession of the Bacchae, ensnared in  Dionysian obsession. Rock,punk and original songs fuse with a gripping theatricality. A spellbound audience is entrapped in Lippis's hypnotic snare. For many, that is enough to lure them willingly into the shadow to see the light. But words are beacons too, the songwriter's other song. A performance of such power and originality, erupting from the shadows still needs to ensure that it does not thrust its lyics into the darkness.      .


Monday, June 18, 2018

THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN


The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign.

Written, performed and produced by Joanne Hartstone. Directed by Vince Fusco. Lighting and production design by Tom Kitney.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Joanne Hartstone in The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign

Evelyn Edwards dreams of becoming an actress in the heady world of Hollywood. It is the Golden Age, the era of the big studios and the big stars. It is Dreamworld, where dreams can come true. But not for poor unnoticeable Evie Edwards. Not for the messenger girl from the back lots. Not for the orphaned young hopeful struggling to survive. Not for the girl in the low cut dress with carefully styled blonde hair whose daddy called her his Jean Harlow. Not for an innocent in the world of ambitious men.
Joanne Hartstone
Knuckles whiten on the side of the Hollywood sign, followed by a frightened face and a body in a black dress. Far above the City of Angels where devils of despair lurk in the dark shadows of the Dream Factory, Evie has climbed, as Peg Entwhistle did in 1924 to………? That we can only surmise as Hartstone in a blackout leaves us on the edge of expectation.

It’s a tale we’ve heard a hundred times before – of broken dreams and shattered lives. But not like this. Not with such emotional truth;not with a roller-coaster ride of feelings, rising to the crest of hopeful possibility and plummeting to the depths of reality, rolling along the rails of innocence into the pit of naivety, only to pick oneself up and resume the steep climb towards the impossible star. 

For a little over an hour in a monologue interspersed with songs of the period, Hartstone recounts Evelyn’s sorry tale that has brought her to the very edge. All disbelief is willingly suspended as we feel for her  loss of a mother, a father and anyone who cared, share her grief, wish for her success and revile the circumstances that intimidate and humiliate. Her fate is ugly; her future bleak. 

Hartstone and director Vince Fusco thread a tightly woven narrative of authenticity through the script, played with conviction by a mercurial actor who compels us to share every moment of her tortured life and excited dreams. In a masterstroke of writing, it is not Evie that is judged but her oppressors, the men who exploit, the men who deceive, the men with the power to make or break, the pariahs of the movie mogul world. Evie’s dreams are built on fantasy and illusion. Her nightmare is the cruel lesson of reality.

And far above the city below and on top of the Hollywood sign she can take control and end it all. Hartstone holds her audience rapt as she brims with hope, wails in grief, struggles to conform to expectation, jitterbugs with delight at the prospect of success and sings with the soul of Holiday and the longing of Garland. She knows the dreadful fates of Theda Bara and Jean Harlow, but clings to a different dream that we know will never come true.

Hartstone gives a haunting, mesmerizing and thoroughly captivating performane as the ill-fated hopeful. The songs are sung without a mike, heightening a sense of innocence and truth. Is it cabaret? It is performed in a small space. It is intimate. Above all it touches the heart and instructs the mind. It is cabaret that snaps with a bitter bite at false illusion. It is truly cabaret and a highlight of my festival visit.        

POL ROGER BACKSTAGE CLUB

Pol Roger Backstage Club.

Hosted by Libby Donovan. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre. June  16. 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Host of the Pol Roger Backstage Club  Libby O' Donovan
On the Saturday night of each of the three weekends of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the crowd shuffles in to their tables for a night of cabaret variety at the Pol Roger Backstage Club. The two hour show, hosted on the weekend by the amazing and irrepressible Libby Donovan promised a night of phenomenal highlights from the festival, prizes for lucky audience members and surprises to thrill and delight. And on this night of nights the late night show did not disappoint.

Mikelangelo
The night opened with Mikelangelo’s deep voiced performance of All of Me from his show, Eastern BlocElvis. Mikelangelo, well-known for his troupe, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentleman, a collection of quirky musicians with an Eastern European flavour, gives his audience a taste of Yugoslavian Elvis, with a rich baritone sound, a quiffed hairstyle and a double dose of Balkan bravura.

The delight of the night is catching up with acts that you can’t see during the festival, because of concurrent time clashes. I am amazed by guitarist Jamie Macdowell and vocal gymnast Tom Thum of Them There Eyes. In an unbelievable display of vocal sound effects, reminiscent of the Umbilical Bothers, Thum creates a vocal chord orchestra of miked sound effects from the glottal to the gliding sliding, falling rising gymnastics of the human vocal chords and chambers.
Carole Sturtzel and Becky Cole

In a frenzied, fabulous rock’n roll rendition of Wanda Jackson’s Rockabilly Fever, Libby O’ Donovan, with wife, Becky Cole and Cole’s mother, the amazing queen of country music, Carol Sturtzel, sent the temperature soaring and the roof rising with talent to burn.  From downtown New York, the unique, bordering on the bizarre darling of shock, Joey Arias is one of a kind, none of another with a voice that squeals, sighs and strains the soul. This is the cabaret of the underground, the unusual and the mesmerizing.

It’s prize time and lucky Leonie from Port Lincoln scores a magnum of Pol Roger champagne when she produces her ticket to Libby O’Donovan’s ­Kate Leigh- The Worst Woman in Sydney  for the following night. And she deserves it. She travels to Adelaide every year for the festival and has bought tickets to sixteen shows. Now that’s true fandom and deserving of the night’s prize.
Tim Minchin

And after the prize comes the surprise that only the mid-festival audience will see – Tim Minchin in town to do a solo spot at the Backstage Club and a double act with the festival director and artist extraordinaire, Ali McGregor and her gut-spilling rendition of Radiohead’s Creep. Minchin then blows the audience away with his thumping, bumping, swiping swinging piano key pounding rendition of his damnation of his LA experience I’m Leaving LA. What better way to close the night in the early hours than with a genuine Aussie accented rendition of Etta James's At Last by host, singing sensation and fired up comedienne, O’ Donovan. Leave them laughing and they’ll always come back for more.



Ali McGregor

So, if you are ever in town at Cabaret Festival time, make sure you make it to the Backstage Club for a fast top of the town talent night of cabaret carousing to chase the blues away..    
   

Saint Joan

Sarah Snook as Joan
in Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
Photo: Brett Boardman
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw.  Sydney Theatre Company at Roslyn Packer Theatre, June 5 – 30, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

I first acknowledge George Bernard Shaw.  At 16, my adult life began with my reading his 1924 play Saint Joan and his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.  This phase took me from the fifties to the sixties, to Bob Dylan’s words about The Times They Are A-changing: “I had to play this song on the same night that President Kennedy died.”

Now in 2018, at a similar age Shaw was when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925, I humbly acknowledge Imara Savage and Sarah Snook for showing me the right Saint Joan for our times, true to Shaw and the direction of change – even in the face of those who would take us backwards to the fifties or worse.

This production of Saint Joan must surely travel the world.  Not merely because it has such clarity of purpose and theatrical intensity, but because people need to understand the ethics of civilisation – if you like, of the Western tradition.

Sarah, Imara and writer Emme Hoy have done what I had never imagined could be done: they have made Shaw’s work even more powerful than he could have known.  As Imara has written in her Director’s Note: “Shaw, like Joan, was a thoroughly modern individual, a rebel and an agitator.  It is in this spirit that we have approached the work.  And whilst failure is always a possibility, an unambitious Saint Joan is really no Saint Joan at all.”

They have trimmed and refocussed the original script because times have indeed a-changed.  Shaw’s audience, shortly after the mass destruction of World War I, needed to have Joan, seeking support early in her career, introduced to them via some seemingly inconsequential comedy at Robert de Baudricourt’s expense: “No eggs!  No eggs!  Thousand thunders, man, what do you mean by no eggs?”  His steward explains:  “Sir: it is not my fault.  It is the act of God.”

Today’s audience, after World Wars I and II and the current threat of a breakdown in world order, wants humour of a different kind – direct and pointed.  And so we begin today with the meeting in Scene IV of Richard de Beauchamp Earl of Warwick and Bishop Cauchon of Beauvais.  Apart from asides like “We were not fairly beaten, my lord.  No Englishman is ever fairly beaten”, the issue of Joan’s success – “Charles is to be crowned at Rheims, practically by the young woman from Lorraine; and – I must not deceive you, nor flatter your hopes – we cannot prevent it...” as Warwick lays the political cards out:  “It would, I presume, be the duty of your reverend lordship to denounce her to the Inquisition, and have her burnt for that offence” of being a sorceress.

This is Shaw with no leavening of the horror of Joan’s situation.  This the Shaw whose every word is telling, whether it makes us laugh or cringe in its irony.  Nothing of Shaw’s writing is lost, while some is added so that we come to know and understand Joan’s voices.  We know from the beginning of this production that we are in the hands of a great playwright.  Sarah’s Joan becomes more than a mere theatrical symbol as she realises how she has been fooled into signing a confession which will lead to a life worse than death.  Sarah’s performance is nothing short of miraculous.

Focus in simplicity of costume, set design, lighting and sound is the keynote to this production.  Wherever it goes, this design must go with it.  See it very soon if you can, or seek out Sydney Theatre Company’s Saint Joan wherever in the world you may find it.



Director – Imara Savage
Additional Writers – Imara Savage, Sarah Snook, Emme Hoy

Set Designer – David Fleischner; Costume Designer – Renee Mulder; Lighting Designer – Nick Schlieper; Composer & Sound Designer – Max Lyandvert

Gareth Davies – Dauphin / King / Assessor / George
John Gaden – Inquisitor / Archbishop
Brandon McClelland – General / Executioner
Sean O’Shea – Priest
Socratis Otto – Officer / Prosecutor
Sarah Snook – Joan
Anthony Taufa – Brother / Bluebeard / Julian
David Whitney – Earl / Captain
William Zappa – Bishop







Marjorie Prime


Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, June 15 – July 21, 2018

Previewed by Frank McKone
June 16

The Ensemble Theatre this week brings the original stage play of Marjorie Prime to Australia for the first time.  Written in 2013, workshopped that year at the Pacific Playwrights’ Festival, and premiered by the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles in 2014, the play made Jordan Harrison a Pultizer Prize finalist.

The film adaptation by Michael Almereyda, made after the play’s New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons, was a winner at the 2017 Sundance Festival.

Opening night on Tuesday is already booked out, and I’m not surprised.  In many ways the 85 minute stage play is more tightly focussed on the relationship between Marjorie and her daughter Tess than the more “discursive” movie, which is only slightly longer.  This is because all the external scenes – about the dog Toni on the beach, for example – are created by us in the theatre, in our imaginations, as we watch, listen and try to work out what really happened and what were slightly manipulated memories among the questions, answers and stories of the four living characters and the three “primes”.

For those who haven’t heard of “primes” (and haven’t seen the trailer of the film on Youtube), these are artificially intelligent compassionate robots of those who have died, providing some kind of comfort for those still living.  They are ‘primed’ about the past by what the living tell them about themselves and others.  In a sense, we in the audience are ‘primed’ too, though we don’t speak back, asking questions or commenting as the ‘primes’ do – we just listen, think things out and maybe talk to our friends afterwards.

When Maggie Dence appears as Marjorie Prime after her earlier scenes as Marjorie, the subtle shift in her characterisation is startling and even quite disturbing.  The same is true later of Lucy Bell as her Tess translates into Tess Prime.  We always know that the long dead Walter is Walter Prime (still aged about 30), but I found myself wondering whether Jon, Tessa’s husband – a linking character throughout the drama – is or is not a Prime at certain points.

On stage the immediacy, especially in the Ensemble’s intimate theatre-in-the-round, makes the play stronger, I think, than a movie which feels more like ordinary reality.  Because Mitchell Butel has kept his design simple and stylised as an obviouly staged performance – where the actors shift the furniture and props into place for each new scene – the effect is to create a kind of Brechtian distancing which makes us think about the issues – of human family interactions as much as ideas about artificial intelligence devices and their potential in our future lives.

The quality of the acting in the preview I saw goes without saying considering the experienced cast, and certainly says not to miss the opportunity – after Opening Night, of course – to see Marjorie Prime in its original form.

Director – Mitchell Butel
Set & Costume Designer – Simon Greer
Alexander Berlage – Lighting Designer
Lucy Bell – Tess
Maggie Dence – Marjorie
Jake Speer – Walter
Richard Sydenham - Jon






The Hypochondriac




The Hypochondriac – a new version of Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire by Hilary Bell.  Darlinghurst Theatre Company at Eternity Playhouse, Sydney, June 9 – July 1, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 17

Though mildly amusing, this highly energetic slapstick farce, full literally of toilet sight-gags, does a disservice to the still relevant issue of forced marriage.  Molière was the pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, whose plays were banned because his satiric comedies threatened the powers that be – resulting in his excommunication from the Catholic Church and his incarceration in the debtors’ prison.

Writer Hilary Bell and director Jo Turner have no likelihood of such a fate; yet forced marriage is still “normal” in many places, and in the news especially in the UK as well as here in Australia.  When Argan, the recalcitrant father, complained towards the end that his brother Béralde and his housemaid (sorry, household manager) Toinette were making fun of him – as they were well justified in doing – I suddenly thought “But this play is making fun of Molière” – as it certainly should not.

Molière’s play certainly has singing and dancing, but not of the kind that Bell has used.  His characters, like Pan, Daphne, the Two Zephyrs and the Troupe of Shepherdesses and Shepherds were satirical romantic fantasies, to contrast with the awful anti-romantic Argan and his cynical moneygrubbing second wife Béline whose only concern is to force his daughter Angélique either into marrying for Argan’s personal convenience or being sent to a nunnery so she cannot inherit his property and wealth – for Béline’s personal convenience.

Bell has, I think, combined the original all-singing all-dancing prologue with the later version of Molière’s play (in the 1674 edition) which has instead a romantic forest scene with “agréable” music, fauns and satyrs, with a single shepherdess who sings that all the doctors in the world – despite their “grand mots latin” cannot cure the pain of love.

This has taken the direction of Bell’s version into inane television advertising of “alternative” medicines and concentrated on making fun of Argan’s fixation of believing he is sick because of the massive influence of the alternative medicine industry.  This becomes the “serious intention” of her play, setting aside the matter of how Angélique is treated; whereas for Molière it was his then very modern issue of the denial of love and independence of women which was central to the play – while Argan’s “malade imaginaire” is a sideline device to make a satirical comment on how unfeeling and self-centred such fathers are.

Then there is an awful irony in the behaviour of Béline, who will send her step-daughter Angéline to a nunnery to gain her, Béline’s, financial independence.  Despite the overwhelming slapstickery of this production, Sophie Gregg as Béline managed to make her nasty enough in her description of her husband, when he has collapsed and is apparently dead, to bring us back adequately to Molière’s true intention to expose upper class graft and inhumanity.

It is also true, as Bell has suggested with a more limited cast, that Molière ended with ‘une cérémonie burlesque” with eight enimatic syringes, six apothecaries, twenty-two doctors, eight surgeons, all singing and dancing.  This goes on for seven pages in Molière’s script, written in extremely funny rhyming imitation Latin, with the climax line “Fluxus de sang, et dysenterias!”

But the problem for Bell was that modern medicine has split into the scientific and so-called alternative.  Her adaptation can only deal with the fad for alternative medicine, while for Molière there was no alternative.  In his day it was true, as the Shepherdess sang “Votre plus haut savoir n’est que pure chimère, / Vains et peu sages médecins.”

Unfortunately to satirise alternative medicine today has not enough strength as a theme to support a parallel serious criticism of the treatment of women in our time.  Going for slapstick, however well done by the likes of Darren Gilshenan and Lucia Mastrantone, sacrificed that second theme and only really got to grips with the first in Gabriel Fancourt’s scene as Béralde berating his stupid brother Argan for believing such medical nonsense.

See The Hypochondriac for the clowning and brilliant timing, but don’t expect Molière.  For that, you should have seen Justin Fleming’s translation of Tartuffe into wonderful modern English rhyming couplets in the Bell Shakespeare production at the Sydney Opera House in 2014 ( reviewed on this blog August 13, 2014).


Playwright & Lyricist – Hilary Bell
Director – Jo Turner
Production Designer – Michael Hankin
Lighting Designer – Verity Hampson
Sound Designer & Additional Music – Maria Alfonsine
Music for Songs – Phillip Johnston

Gabiel Fancourt – Cléante / Bonnefoi / Béralde
Darren Gilshenan – Argan
Sophie Gregg – Béline
Emma Harvie – Angélique
Lucia Mastrantone – Toinette
Jamie Oxenbould – Thomas Diafoirus
Monica Sayers – Doctor Diafoirus





YMA SUMAC - The Peruvian Songbird


Yma Sumac  The Peruvian Songbird. 

Devised and performed by Ali McGregor.Directed by Cameron Menzies. Musical direction by Sam Keevers. Lighting direction by Paul Lim. Sound design by Russell Goldsmth. Set design by Kathryn Sprout.  Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 14-16 2018


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Yma Sumac - The Peruvian Songbird.
Extraordinary!!!! How else can one describe the phenomenal Ali McGregor in her tribute to South American Mambo Queen, Yma Sumac. Australia’s own songbird and Adelaide Cabaret Festival director channels Fifties sensation, Sumac, the Peruvian Songbird. This is no ordinary performance, a tribute to a surprisingly unknown superstar of the era of Mambo Mania.
After learning of Sumac’s existence while in London in the late Nineties and her phenomenal success with Capitol Records, McGregor set out on a search for anything that would tell her more about the Peruvian with the five octave range and extraordinary voice. Interest became passion and passion turned o obsession as she began to buy up Sumac memorabilia, made contact with Sumac’s former gay companion, carer and confidante and bought a box full of costumes and props and jewellery, which she wears  throughout the show.

Ali McGregor. Mikel Angelo, Lily Paskas

McGregor’s accounting of Sumac’s soap opera life is told with enormous admiration and compassion for a woman who had to fight to survive, cheated on by her philandering husband, betrayed by her cousin for whom she eventually cared, humiliated by an arrogant partner who had children with other women and flung aside when Rock and Roll stormed the music world. McGregor, appearing in various costumes worn by Sumac and touting her jewels sings the songs of longing, the wail and pitched shrill of duende as well as the vocal dexterity of the sensuous and playful mambo. Her respect for the memory of Yma Sumac shines through her performance and her song. However, this is not merely an account of the pain and the suffering, or even a tribute to Sumac’s remarkable success as Capitol Records’ highest selling artist of the Mambo era.  It is also the admiring tribute to her survival, as she sings Sumac’s Mambo version of Mozart’s Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute . To hear McGregor is to experience anew the wondrous voice and incredible five octave range of the Peruvian Songbird. 

McGregor inhabits the talent, the vocal range and the persona of the enigmatic Peruvian, and we are transported to a talent that shines with the splendor of Inca gold.
Ali McGregor as Yma Sumac


McGregor is accompanied on stage by guitarist Mikelangelo in the role of Svengali husband, Moises Vivanco and Lily Paskas as cousin Cholita. They exist primarily to dress the stage and create a reference point to McGregor’s narrative. Mikelangelo provides accompaniment on guitar and strikes the macho  pose of Moises while Paskas essentially strikes a number of poses, but appears largely superfluous to the action. The presence of Mikelangelo and Paskas is reminiscent of a directorial idea that was not given sufficient rehearsal time. Either that, or McGregor’s charismatic presence is so prominent, that all other aspects of production are merely a backdrop to her stunning performance.

Yma Sumac lives again in a show that is more than a tribute. It is an affirmation of an amazing talent brought to life again by an artist who has the genius and the love to restore the Peruvian Songbird’s enduring legacy.  Yma Sumac – The Peruvian Songbird  should tour nationally and be seen by all . McGregor’s astounding voice rises on a wave of song to restore a legacy and honour the gift to the world of music that was the incomparable Yma Sumac.  

Production photos by Claudio Raschella