Monday, June 18, 2018

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