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July 30, 2018 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Songs for Nobodies

“Everyone has a story” is the catchphrase of this critically acclaimed, one-woman play starring Ali Harper. The show is a tribute to five female musical legends: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Maria Callas.
Directed by Ross Gumbley, the production focuses on the storytelling aspect with a minimalist approach to performance. Richard Van den Berg creates a raised stage without much frills. The only prop on the stage is a single black bentwood chair, and drapes that are lit to reveal a trio of musicians (momentarily striking as the Three Witches from Macbeth). Sean Harkness’ lighting is evocative and follows the rhymes and rhythms of the story; flashes of dressing room mirrors and a star-lit night are sprinkled throughout the 90-minute production.
One of the strengths of this production is its use of music. The pianist Daniel Hayles, Johnny Lawrence on the double bass, and percussionist Lance Philip are compelling. Each act evokes the music of a particular era that immediately transports the audience to a different time and age.
Songs for Nobodies narrates five everyday women whose lives change when they happen to meet five legendary divas of their time. Each of these five women’s stories feature an iconic song (among many) that reveal Harper’s incredible vocal range.
In the first act, we meet a lavatory attendant whose husband has left her. She encounters Judy Garland in a powder room and is comforted by the diva’s song, “Come Rain or Come Shine”. In the second act, we have a theatre usher who gets her five minutes of fame when Patsy Cline pulls her up on stage to sing backup.
In this act, Cline’s tragic story of rushing home to see her children and dying in a plane crash is narrated to the audience. The third act introduces a librarian from Nottingham who recalls her father’s history as a member of the French resistance and who was led to safety by Edith Piaf. In the fourth act, we see a restless young reporter looking for a break and who finds it by getting a chance to interview Billie Holiday. Finally, we meet an Irish nanny, Orla, who provides a rare glimpse into the life of Maria Callas.
Songs for Nobodies highlights the tragic elements of life. Throughout the play, enquiries such as “Tell me, what do happy people sing about?” bring forth larger questions that haunt everyone in the world. Every act in this production illustrates the universal need to be heard and seen. In the end, all the five nobodies in the play strive to leave behind a legacy: a song of their own.
Ali Harper is stunning in this production. Her ability to convey the wide-ranging vocal characteristics, physical gestures, and behaviors of the five female legends was highly persuasive. She credibly captures the striking vulnerability of Judy Garland, the emotional warmth of Patsy Cline, the impressive breadth of Edith Piaf, that tempo of Billie Holiday, and the dramatic tenor of Maria Callas.
Songs for Nobodies is truly an astonishing acting and singing extravaganza, and Ali Harper deserves all the accolades for her outstanding performance.


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