Women in Voice

(Playhouse Theatre)


Professional production

Six very different women, six different styles of music, and a crowd of over a thousand going wild at every performance.

Yes, Women in Voice are back for the fourteenth time, and their ever-growing crowd of followers just cant get enough of them. Being at one of their concerts and I went mid-run, where the audience was made up of paying customers rather than first-night freeloaders is as good as being at the footy, certainly as far as enthusiasm goes.

All six (Barbara Fordham, Zulya Kamalova, Kate Miller-Heidke, Jenny Morris, Alison St Ledger and Queenie van de Zandt ) were in fine voice, and each delivered some surprises in her choice of style and music.

Barbara Fordham, for example, showed us that theres a lot more to her image than Big Bad Barbie with Big Bad Boobs, beginning the show with a set of heart-breakingly moody blues numbers in a lush Pre-Raphaelite setting, before Kate Miller-Heidke screwed the tension up a little higher with her very different vocal ability.

Imagine the ethereal Titania from A Midsummer Nights Dream high on speed, singing wicked little numbers that take her higher and higher up the scale until she turns into the Queen of the Night. This way of using her classically-trained voice gives a whole new meaning to the term dramatic soprano.

Another change of mood brought on Queenie van de Zandt, an actor-singer whose routine in this show is to run a music therapy workshop as a very scary, vaguely Eastern European teacher, which gave her an opportunity to change characters and vocal routines at the twist of a shoe. She had the audience in stitches, and has done a great deal, Im glad to say, to debunk the whole New Age music therapy craze.

After interval, the pace changed yet again, with the best-selling (half a million records to date) multiple Aria Award-winning Jenny Morris surprising us as a mother in a daggy chenille dressing gown, singing songs about motherhood that became edgier and edgier until she threw it all off and reverted to the wild woman we all know and love.

And then came enchantment of another kind. Zulya Kamalova took us on a lyrical journey through Central Asia, lifting the art of folk song to haunting new heights, even more beautiful to listen to than to look at, and so it seemed that there was nothing left for the final WIV, Alison St Ledger, to do, as all the fields had been covered.

But never underestimate Women in Voice, with or without capital letters. St Ledger took us through her life-long obsession with the Beatles, and we were treated to fifteen minutes of their best numbers, with the five other WIV doing the backing vocals. By this stage, the audience was as wild as at those memorable Beatles concerts forty years ago, and just wouldnt let the women go away.

The WIV concept has been refined over the years, and this production was as finely-honed as you could wish, because its a theatrical production rather than just six women doing their individual thing. Jean-Marc Russs impeccable direction helped, as did Alison Rosss bordello-esque stage design, while the sound and lighting (Brett Cheney and Jason Organ) were truly world class.

Add to this Helen Russells stunning group of musicians (Jamie Clark, Andrew McNaughton, John Parker and John Rodgers), as well as the deeper, sexier, huskier but never older Leah Cotterell bringing the acts seamlessly together, and you have a evening of vocal and theatrical perfection.

And all I wondered was, when are the boys in Brisbane going to bring us something as good as this?

Directed by Jean-Marc Russ (creative producer Annie Peterson)

Playing until 24 March 2005, with performances every night except Sunday at 7.30pm, and a matinee this Saturday at 1.30pm

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes total including interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Mon 14th March 2005)