Songs My Mother Taught Me.
Directed by Johanna Allen. Musical direction Mark Simeon Ferguson. Special guests. Sophie Koh, Thando, Wendy Matthews, Jessica Hitchcock and Lior. Her Majesty’s Theatre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre. June 25th 2022.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
I can’t think of a more fitting finale to Tina Arena’s stunning 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The evocative sound of the didgeridoo, played by Isaac Hannan as his welcome to Kaurna Country floats through the auditorium. On a stage, colourfully festooned with a canopy of different lampshades Tina Arena welcomes the audience to her House Party. We are all invited to share in a very special and unique performance by musical luminaries from different cultures and diverse legacies. Songs My Mother Taught Me is a salute to family and the songs of one’s country and culture. Arena is joined in this extraordinary programme by Canadian Australian Wendy Matthews, Sophie Koh, born in New Zealand of Chinese/Malay parentage, Zimbabwean Thando, Jessica Hitchcock with family origins in the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea and Israeli/Australian Lior. The audience is in for a world premiere performance like no other, as each artist from wherever they may be turns to home to sing the songs that they learnt at their mother’s knee. As Arena tells the audience in Italian and English “No matter where you go or turn, you will always end up at home.” It holds the promise of nostalgia, the salute to culture and the affirmation of identity.
|Mark Ferguson and Tina Arena|
Arena opens the show with her memories of her childhood and the girls’ sunroom in Moonie Ponds. Her rendition of Maledetta Primavera (Cursed Spring), sung with the aching passion of memory reminds me of the songs in the nighttime streets of Italy. There is such power in the voice, such passion in the song and such rich flavor of Italy in the air. She is instantly followed by Sophie Koh dressed in Chinese design inviting the audience to a call and response in Mandarin (I want your love.) Seated at the piano, she sings Yellow Rose in words from the oldest book of poetry in China. It is in our cultural experience that we learn the lessons of our lives. For Thando, with the spirit of Africa rising from deep within her soul, her song is the voice of the survivor. “I’m still here.” she sings in jubilation. This is contrasted with a gentle song that she sings lovingly to her eight year old daughter at bedtime Lior sings of his old kindergarten in Tel Aviv, now deserted and neglected. His childhood memory becomes a plea for compassion. Only then can we hope to be liberated. Backing singers Susan and Ciara Ferguson join him in perfect harmony.
There is a change of mood as Jess Hitchcock remembers her mother’s love of 50s and 60s music in a boisterous and fun filled rendition of Connie Francis’s hit single Stupid Cupid. Her identity is firmly bound up with her indigenous legacy and she sings a beautiful rendition of a song of country in the language of her people. Hitchcock is an emerging artist of great promise in the company of Tina Arena’s remarkable guests. It is Wendy Matthews’ rendition of Cherokee Louise by Joni Mitchell that strikes to the heart. This heart wrenching song about sexual and child abuse is sung shortly after SCOTUS hands down its decision to remove the ROE vs Wade decision legalizing abortion. Her song is a plea for justice and humanity.
Act 2 opens with advice from Arena to the young Hitchcock to be true to herself and celebrate her family and individuality in a triumphant duet with Hitchcock of Sorrento Moon. The second half continues with songs that have formulated these singers. Their spirit is in the song and in their DNA. Lior is a child of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord and the 1995 assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. His longing for peace rings out on his pure tenor voice as he sings a Song for Peace (Shir L’Shalom) Thando continues to exude strength and resilience with her song about holding on to freedom, inspired by her life in Canberra after leaving Zimbabwe and Wendy Matthews identifies the influences of her Scottish heritage. Arena then sings with the voice that could light up a thousand stars a deeply moving song about her Italian inspiration - the great Enrico Caruso (Caruso) as he nears the end of his life in far flung Italian Sorrento. The synchronicity of life soars in her song. As the evening draws to a close, the family of singers, backed by a superb string quartet and band under Mark Ferguson’s musical direction, join together to sing in their own language the lyrics to Lior’s wedding celebration song This Old Love.. There is joy and there is family which carries through to the rousing, uplifting Tintarella di Luna. (Suntan of the Moon)
The singers dance happily to Tintarella di Luna as band and backing singers join in to bring the concert and the Cabaret Festival to a close. Songs My Mother Taught Me is far more than a collection of songs that have inspired and formulated Tina Arena and her amazing guests Sophie Koh, Wendy Matthews, Thando, Jess Hitchcock and Lior. The house party affirms the love of family and humanity, irrespective of colour, race or creed. What these phenomenal artists, musicians and director Johanna Allen have brought to this festival is the empowerment of legacy and culture. Like so many shows during the festival Lone can only hope that they may be revived after a one night stand. In the meantime I urge readers to google the singers and their songs to savour the taste of what has been an exrtraordinary performance and an unforgettable festival.
Photos by Claudio Raschella
I am attaching the full cast, song and musicians list because of the unique, on-off nature of this final performance of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2022
ACT 1: SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME.
1. OUR HOUSE (EVERYONE)) Full cast, BV’s and full band (including trombone). New arrangement that kicks into the original
2. TINA: MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA Tina, BV’s and full band.
3. SOPHIE KOH: WO YAO NI DE AI Sophie, BV’s and full band.
4. SOPHIE KOH: YELLOW ROSE, STRING QUARTET FEATURED. Sophie at piano, strings, BV’s. 5. THANDO: Survivor (Destiny’s Child) Thando, BV’s and full band.
6. THANDO: Thula Thala Strings and Piano and BV’s at the end
7. LIOR: GAN SAGUR Lior, full band and BV’s
8. LIOR: AVINU MALKEINU (ACAPELLA) Lior a capella
9. JESS HITCHCOCK: STUPID CUPID. Jess, BV’s and rhythm section
10. JESS HITCHCOCK PLUS BV SINGERS: BABA WAIYAR Jess, BV’s maybe guitar. mostly a capella
11. WENDY MATTHEWS: CHEROKEE LOUISE Wendy and full band
12: WENDY MATTHEWS PLUS ALL: STANDING STRONG. Full cast, BV’s and full band.
ACT 2: SONG MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME.
1; Intro:mferguson THEN SORRENTO MOON: TINA AND JESS AND PIANO
2. .LIOR: SHIR L’SHALOM
3. THANDO: GOLDEN FULL BAND AND BV
4. WENDY MATTHEWS: LONG WAY FROM HOME. (ACAPELLA WITH AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION). Wendy A capella
4A. WENDY MATTHEWS: LE JOUR OÙ TU ES PARTI /THE DAY YOU WENT AWAY WENDY AND PIANO 5. SOPHIE KO: GAN LAN SHU. Sophie, BV’s and full band
6. TINA: CARUSO FULL BAND 7. . LIOR ET ALL: THIS OLD LOVE WHOLE CAST
9. TINA: TINTARELLA DI LUNA. WHOLE CAST
Mark Simeon Ferguson MD, arrangements, piano, keyboard, BV’s
Zsusza Leon, Violin
Emily Tulloch Violin
Karen DeNardi Viola
Hilary Kleinig ‘cello
Chris Neale drums
Cameron Blokland guitars
Nick Sinclair basses
Ciara Ferguson BV’s percussion, piano.
Susan Ferguson BV’s