With a trio of big – budget musical theatre spectaculars now playing in Melbourne, Strictly Ballroom, The Lion King, and Anything Goes, it is the mark of a very special person who can create more legitimate and lasting atmosphere than all three shows combined.
But Bobbie – Jean Henning uses her highly original solo cabaret act, Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress, to do exactly that. For, while the essence of this transfixing routine lies in its apparent simplicity, don’t be fooled by the lack of sets or props. This young singer / actress has an utterly charming story to tell.
Henning is Kitty, a singer born in 1912 U.S.A, somehow transported to the present day.
Following the death of her mother from pneumonia and her father days later from a broken heart, she carries viewers through historical flash points in time and place. Along the way, the performer is introduced to a significant series of historical icons and people who ultimately shape her life, personal relationships, and burgeoning career path in a handful of very unexpected and truly magical ways.
Tucked away in Carson Place, The Butterfly Club is one of Melbourne’s leading performing arts venues. Operating for more than twenty years, (firstly in North Melbourne and now in its current home) the space has acted as host to artists including Jemma Rix, Amanda Harrison, Tim Minchin and Eddie Perfect.
Recent cabaret such as Nailed It, Up Close and Reasonably Personal, Broadway To Bourbon St, and The Judy Journals, not only showcased the talented individuals fronting them, each experience stood out for developing and owning a distinct point of view. Tales of a Time Travelling Songstress must be included with this group.
The central key to Henning’s multi – faceted journey, is that each episode is underscored through song. Without giving too much more of the story away, she has selected pieces that purposefully drive the gripping narrative.
Though tunes such as George Gershwin’s ‘Summer Time’, Arthur Hamilton’s ‘Cry Me A River’, John Kandor and Fred Ebb’s ‘Cabaret’, Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’, Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’ and ‘Being Alive’, Frank Ifield’s quirky ‘She Taught Me How To Yodel’ as well as a disco medley including ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ and ‘Turn The Beat Around’, are played straight, others such as Michel Legrand’s ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ have been re-imagined to suit the occasion.
Its inclusion serves to highlight how well – known works can be turned inside out for dramatic effect. But beyond that, Henning’s eclectic choices demonstrate a breathtaking range. Her vocal versatility reminded me of a similar vehicle, Jim Cartwright’s ‘The Rise And Fall of Little Voice’, staged firstly as a play then a blockbuster film for the English actress, Jane Horrocks.
Tales of a Time Travelling Songstress is bold and exciting, both in construction and delivery. This is 50 minutes filled with musical appreciation of the highest order.