There’s only one person who could possibly perform Songs For Nobodies, and that’s Bernadette Robinson. Which is convenient because it is a one woman show written explicitly for her. By Joanna Murray-Smith. And directed by Simon Phillips. Also it’s produced by Barry Humphries’ long time producer, Harley Medcalf. This must be one of the ultimate production dream teams and it makes Songs For Nobodies one hell of a show.
Watch the trailer here
What’s so wonderful about this team is how down-to-earth, dedicated and gosh-darned talented they all are. Songs For Nobodies has travelled nationally and internationally multiple times to sell out houses, tears, laughter and standing ovations. Bernadette Robinson and I had coffee and discussed the show’s repeated success, her career in preforming arts and what’s next on the cards.
This show capitalises on Bernadette Robinson’s uncanny ability to transform characters, seamlessly, in a split second: a turn of the head, a lighting change or a swig of a drink is all it takes for the star to metamorphose from one character to another. However, they’re often not just any old characters, but legends of song. From Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, to Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas, Bernadette Robinson brings the house alive with impassioned renditions of some of the most magical songs from some of the most inspirational singers of the 20th century. Of course, peppered throughout are the eponymous nobodies – women from around the world who have been touched by the iconic performers. One woman, 90 minutes and a dozen characters makes Songs For Nobodies one of the most successful shows to grace Australian theatres. Not bad for someone who dropped out of the VCA.
So where did it all come from? Well not from nowhere, that’s for sure. Although this show has been lauded with praise and the ‘discovery’ of a new talent, Bernadette Robinson has actually been around for a while. An enviable career in the arts, on stage in Australia and around the world, has seen Bernadette go from shows like Cats to singing in Hindi, Mandarin and Japanese at corporate functions. Here, she was able to cash in on her deft ear and practiced technique to imitate accents and dialects from around the world.
Robinson would watch mainstage shows and think, I can do that. So after hearing about Bombshells – Caroline O’Connor’s one-woman show also written by Murray-Smith – Bernadette Robinson called Simon Phillips and asked if he was interested in directing a show for her. And since he has been a member of one of her numerable audiences, he said he was. Right away, Robinson and I bonded over our adoration of one of Melbourne's finest directors. Though, of course, she felt comfortable referring to him as Simon, whereas, I felt the need to say SimonPhillips, all as one word every time. Robinson praised Phillips’ ability to embrace all aspects of performing arts, his enthusiasm and genuine love of theatre that has seen him create some of Melbourne’s most spectacular works of the past decade. A quick phone call and a meeting later, Phillips had agreed to come on board with the project. Harder to entice was Murray-Smith whose prolific playwriting has led to having shows all over Australia and across the world. However, after a number of meetings, monologues, letters dropped into her mailbox, coaxing and finally the spark of an idea, she was on board too.
Together, the three of them worked on creating the show. Tweaking, editing, toying with different concepts and ideas – a process that’s still going on today, some two and a half years after its inception. The show capitalises on Bernadette Robinson’s ability to mimic and emulate, flawlessly, accents and voices. Her talent at adopting different vocal styles enabled the show to recreate the iconic voices of the likes of Piaf and Garland, as well as utilise Robinson’s training as an opera singer to soar the arias of Callas. This comes naturally to Bernadette who said she effortlessly changes from one to the other as if she’s standing behind them, watching herself perform while the characters do the work and come to life on their own accord, she says, “I don’t see them as me making the changes, I’m watching the whole thing myself… I’m just going along for the ride, it’s easier that way!’ These are modest words for someone who commands attention for 90 minutes in what is a spectacular tour-de-force.
Word on the street is the fun might not stop here. There’s still a chance that Songs For Nobodies could make it to Broadway for a complete run (it has had a couple of trial shows) and the three members of the creative team have thought seriously about writing another show. They’re just waiting for that inspirational spark of genius. But give it time and we could be expecting another success in the same vein as Songs. So things are happening for Bernadette Robinson and she is excited to bring the show back to its home, the Fairfax studio, for one last time.
Talking to Bernadette Robinson was refreshing: it was lovely to hear a voice that is not afraid to be critical, that is confident, is willing to stick to what she loves and isn’t afraid to try new things. And importantly, she’s realistic. When asked to give advice to performers out there, she said, "I have bad advice… it's hard to get work": honest, earnest and respectable. Songs For Nobodies comes back to Melbourne, in the Fairfax, from January 2 before moving on to Sydney and Adelaide. It has had one of the most successful seasons the Arts Centre has seen and leaves the audience in standing ovations, tears and smiles. What’s not to love?
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