Review by Taylor Kendal
Another beautiful day in Melbourne brings another foray into the incredible talent that our fair city has to offer with Morning Melodies at our beloved Arts Centre. This morning, the audience was privileged to spend an hour with the fabulous Bernadette Robinson, bringing her tour de force stage prowess to Hamer Hall with the Songs of Judy Garland, accompanied by Paul Noonan on piano.
As a life-long devotee of Judy Garland, I am immediately drawn to anything that promises a performance of her songs, but usually with some semblance of reservation. Many attempt to capture even a glimpse of the essence of the legendary performer, and sadly not all tend to succeed – though not always through lack of trying. Judy Garland simply had the voice like no other, and it is hard to mimic such star quality. HOWEVER, it is not the case with Bernadette Robinson, having seen a glimpse of her portrayal of Garland in her previous show Songs for Nobodies. Not only does Robinson bring the richness of talent required to both deliver and honour the star, but it becomes abundantly clear that she is not only a devotee and a fan, but has studied intensely, having the intonation and inflections of Garland’s unique vocal stylings as well as spoken voice, but also her well-known mannerisms, from her facial expressions to her hand and shoulder movements. She is someone who deeply knows Garland well, understanding her story, how she conveys through her music and her gift, and it is truly spectacular.
Of course, Robinson is not playing the part of Judy Garland in this performance, although there are moments when the lines are blurred and the audience cannot seem to mind with the calibre of talent radiating from one woman. The Songs of Judy Garland is a collection of songs from throughout Garland’s career, from her most famous tunes, such as The Man That Got Away, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and The Trolly Song, to other lesser known but equally as powerful numbers, like Rockabye, A Foggy Day (in the stunning Carnegie Hall arrangement) and Chicago. Interwoven between songs are stories about Garland’s tumultuous life, from her days starting in Vaudeville, to dinner parties with Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward, and of course The Judy Garland Show.
One of the absolute highlights of this performance – and frankly any recent performance I have seen in many years, was Robinson’s performance of Get Happy/Happy Days, made famous as a duet between Garland and a young Barbra Streisand. A duet that surely had Robinson invite a guest on stage to perform with her, right? Oh no. Bernadette Robinson, in all her ridiculously, ingenious, and frankly unbelievable talent, performed BOTH PARTS in perfect character, as both Garland and Streisand. Two conflicting and very different vocal styles performed effortlessly and seamlessly by a single voice, flawless in both delivery and transition. Needless to say, I was in awe. I still am.
Now anyone who is familiar with Robinson’s talent already knows that one of her many, many skills, is her ability to bring to life some of the most incredible voices in music. Robinson spoke of her opportunity to sing I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady in front of Eliza Dolittle herself, Audrey Hepburn, and posed the question; who else could have auditioned for that role? Audiences were blessed to get a taste of the likes of not only Garland and Streisand, but also Maria Callas, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Dame Shirley Bassey and Edith Piaf with such effortless ease, slipping into each star’s shoes and voice as easily as you or I would slip into a jacket on a cold day. You close your eyes, and you would think they were there. Robinson’s ability to bring each performer to life is a testament to her skill and her talent and is quite frankly pure magic.
Also, hearing ‘Julie Andrews‘ singing I Love The Nightlife is something I never thought I needed in my life and yet I am so thankful it happened.
But of course, a tribute to Judy Garland would not be complete without the song that became her signature for the rest of her days and beyond; an anthem for all those who dream for a little more in life – and my all time favourite song. Robinson sends audiences off over the Rainbow with one of the most beautiful renditions of the song I have ever heard. Stripped back, raw and with that vulnerability that Judy was notorious for, it was a very real and honest performance that ended with that signature powerhouse Garland belt. I was in tears.
My only criticism really was that it was only an hour performance. Any opportunity you may have to witness Bernadette Robinson and her magnificent, magical voice is one you shouldn’t miss. She is, without a doubt, a star; with a deserved place amongst those she emulates in her performances.