REVIEW

Songs for Nobodies at the Royal Wanganui Opera House

My gob was thoroughly smacked by the 90-minute one-woman show performed by Ali Harper at the Royal Wanganui Opera House on Tuesday night.

Not only did Harper bring Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas back to life on stage, she also introduced the five "nobodies" they met as fully-formed, flawed and lovable characters.

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There was Bea who met Judy Garland in the ladies' room - abandoned wife, cosmetic saleswoman and philosopher.

"In this country, people are always talkin' about dreams," she tells the audience.

"You can be your dream. You can have your dream. You can live the dream.

"But that's just a clever way of gettin' people to shut up and stop complainin'."

Bea is one of two New Yorkers in the play. The other was reluctant fashion writer "Too Junior Jones", looking to get her big break in an interview with Billie Holiday.

The accents were thoroughly convincing as were those of the Kansas theatre usher who got to sing with Patsy Cline, the Irish nanny on a cruise ship with Maria Callas and the English librarian whose father was rescued from Dachau by Edith Piaf.

Using minimal props (black screens and strategic lighting) and costumes (black wig, dress and jacket), Harper employed her impressive acting and singing talents to make Joanna Murray-Smith's script sizzle.

When Court Theatre director Ross Gumbley wanted to stage the play, Murray-Smith agreed with the proviso that Harper was hired for the role.

Harper looked remarkably fresh after her non-stop performance as she greeted the audience in the foyer.

"Which was your favourite?" she asked.

I loved them all - the ones I already knew through their songs and the ones I had just met for the first time.

What a play and what a performer.