SONGS FOR NOBODIES
Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
07/07/2018 - 04/08/2018
Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga
09/09/2018 - 09/09/2018
21/05/2018 - 21/05/2018
SIT Centrestage Theatre, Invercargill
19/05/2018 - 19/05/2018
19/08/2017 - 09/09/2017
Kavanagh Auditorium, Kavanagh College, 255A Rattray St, Dunedin
24/09/2018 - 25/09/2018
The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch
17/06/2017 - 15/07/2017
SOUTHLAND FestivaL of the Arts 2018
Everybody has a story…
Ten years after taking to the stage in the one-woman show, Bombshells, Ali Harper is back to delight Christchurch audiences in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs for Nobodies.
Harper will take audiences on a journey to meet five everyday working women whose lives were changed by a chance encounter with a star. Each of these five women’s stories are interspersed with the songs that made Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holliday and Maria Callas worldwide musical icons.
Joining Harper in bringing this show to New Zealand audiences is The Court Theatre’s Artistic Director, Ross Gumbley, who also directed Bombshells, and Musical Director, Richard Marrett.
“Ali and I have been looking for a vehicle to work on together since we did another of Joanna Murray-Smith’s plays, Bombshells, back in 2007. Songs for Nobodies requires a Herculean effort from one incredibly talented performer who needs to have the musical chops to be able to sing the songs of these five divas, and that’s an incredible technical feat, but it’s also an incredible platform to showcase Ali’s incredible skills and strengths,” Gumbley says.
Murray-Smith seems to agree. As Ali performed Bombshells extensively across the globe, and won the Best Actress award at the United Solo Festival in New York, following Bette Midler’s win the year before, she has developed a close relationship with Murray-Smith. Due to Murray-Smith’s explicit trust in Ali as a performer, she agreed to grant the exclusive New Zealand rights to The Court Theatre, on the condition that it would be Ali Harper performing the show.
“In my 25 year career, there have been a handful of scripts that have come my way and have felt like a gift. Songs for Nobodies is one of those gifts. One woman plays are nothing new to me but this particular one is going to stretch and challenge me in new areas, which is both invigorating and terrifying. Luckily for me I am surrounded by the incredible Court Theatre team who will prop me up, rally me along and keep me sane,” Harper says.
In developing her performance for Songs for Nobodies, Harper has the unique challenge of having to master ten different accents, ten complex characters and five different singing styles.
“It’s a fascinating piece of drama to work on,” Gumbley says. “The script has a greater level of maturity and complexity than Bombshells. That maturity comes through as the women in the play go to a deeper level, celebrate the human condition and consider what it really means to be ‘living the dream’.”
Supporting Harper on The Court’s stage will be three musicians, Richard Marrett, Tim Sellars and Michael Story, who will punctuate the performance on a grand piano, upright bass and drums.
“There will be a three-piece band which has to negotiate its way across several styles of music in order to comment on the various characters that Ali is playing,” Marrett says.
Songs such as Patsy Cline’s Crazy, Judy Garland’s Come Rain or Come Shine and Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien are well loved pieces of music which are structured into the play to an incredible emotional pay-off.
Set designer, Richard Van Den Berg, has developed a sophisticated and spare set to complement Harper in her performance. “The idea was to create a simple and elegant space which can function as multiple settings”, Van Den Berg says.
Lighting designer, Sean Hawkins, will utilise the simplicity of the set, which has allowed his designs to become a central part of the show. Sound designer, Giles Tanner, will work alongside Marrett and Gumbley to develop the complexities of the sound, transporting audiences into the world of each of the different characters.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be going on this journey with Ali. I really can’t wait to see the reaction that this exceptional play, performed by a truly gifted performer, will draw from an audience,” Gumbley says.
Songs for Nobodies boasts a stunning script which perfectly marries the incredible power of music. It will reach out and grab your heart. It will hit you on a comedic level, an intellectual level and on a spiritual level.
Songs for Nobodies opens at The Court on June 17th and runs until July 15th.
Tonkin & Taylor Main Stage at The Court Theatre
17 June – 15 July 2017
6.30pm: Forum 19th June – Discuss the play with cast and creative team after the show
2.00pm: Matinee Saturday 1st July
Under 25: $34-$39
Child (under 18): $24-$29
Senior 65yrs+: $46-$51
Group 20+: $46-$51
Phone 03 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz
19 AUG – 9 SEP 2017
Wednesday & Thursday / 6:30PM
Friday & Saturday / 8PM
Sunday / 5PM
Opening Night: Saturday 19 August
Post-Show Q+A: Wednesday 23 August
Adult / Full $40; Earlybird $32
Group (6+)/ Full $36; Earlybird $30
Concession* / Full $32; Earlybird $26
Student / Full $20; Earlybird $16
*Seniors (60+), under-30s, and Community Services Card holders. Valid I.D. is required.
“… truly astonishing acting and singing tour-de-force.” “Harper hits a new high note.” The Christchurch Press
“Songs for Nobodies is an exquisite evening out. Experience it while you can.” Theatreview
Southland Arts Festival 2018
SIT Centrestage Theatre, Invercargill
Sat 19 May, 2:30pm & 7:30pm
Book: TicketDirect (service fees apply)
Lake Wanaka Centre
Monday 21 May, 2018
CIRCA ONE, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
7 July – 4 August 2018
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm
Fri – Sat 8pm
Opening Night Sat 7 July
$30 Specials: Fri 6 July, 8pm And Sun 8 July 4pm
Tickets: $30 – $52
Bookings: (04) 801 7992 www.circa.co.nz
1st Sept – Expressions Theatre, Upper Hutt 8.00pm
6th Sept – 4th Wall Theatre, New Plymouth * The reviewer could come 7TH Sept or 8th Sept 7.30pm
9th Sept – Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga 7.30pm
24th & 25th Sept – Dunedin Arts Festival 7.30pm
14th Oct – Nelson Arts Festival 7.00pm
15th Oct – Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 7.30pm
Richard Marrett: Grand Piano
Tim Sellars: Drums
Michael Story: Bass
Circa Theatre season:
Pianist – Daniel Hayles
Drummer/Percussionist – Lance Philip
Double Bass – Johnny Lawrence
Ross Gumbley: Director
Richard Marrett: Musical Director
Richard Van Den Berg: Set Designer
Sean Hawkins: Lighting Designer | Te Ahe Butler - Circa season
Giles Tanner: Sound Designer
Sean Hawkins: Lighting Operator
Stephen Compton: Sound Operator
Christy Lassen: Properties Manager
Sarah Douglas: Costume Manager
Theatre , Solo , Musical ,
1hr 30m (no interval)
An evening of inspiration
Review by Kate Timms-Dean 25th Sep 2018
Everybody is somebody, a truth that Songs for Nobodies brings home with aplomb. Five women’s experiences of rubbing shoulders with fame are powerfully recounted by Christchurch actor Ali Harper.
The lives of these nobodies are laid bare, each speaking of the fleeting nature of happiness, the drudgery of the everyday, and the frustration of being overlooked and ignored. Their brush with fame sets them afire, flustered in the face of their heroes and hesitant to overstep their boundaries.
But we see that each of these somebodies is desperate to connect, to make contact with another human, to break the bounds of their isolation. Despite the reverence with which they are treated, there is a feeling that, despite their fame and fortune, these women are also wanting more.
The tragedy of these five divas is hard to ignore: Judy Garland, expressing her feelings of isolation; Patsy Kline as she heads to her death in a plane crash, never to see her children again; Billie Holiday, a drug addict, used and tossed aside before her untimely death; Edith Piaf, playing a dangerous game of hide and seek in Nazi Germany; and Maria Callas, paraded as a trophy on the arm of a married man.
Thus, the tension between those who have nothing and those who would appear to have it all is observed, with the feeling that, no matter who, there is always a feeling of dissatisfaction with life, regardless of how blessed it might seem.
Against this backdrop, Harper’s characterisation is dazzling. Each character distinct in voice, stance and delivery; every facet clearly conveyed with charm and humour.
And then there is the singing. Building on her delivery of each personality, the delivery of each diva’s music is perfection. The voice, the nuance, the feeling – it is breath-taking.
More than a night of entertainment, this is an evening of inspiration.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Harper’s big talent showcased on stage
Review by Sharron Pardoe 09th Jul 2018
It was 90 minutes of joy. The audience was transfixed by the lone figure on stage, who showed us 10 different personalities, each seamlessly transitioning into the next.
What an amazing talent Ali Harper is and she was hardly recognisable as she moved into each of her characters – with accents, varying from England, Ireland, New York and the mid west. And then switching from English to French throughout the Edith Piaf vignette. [More]
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Review by John Smythe 08th Jul 2018
World class from Christchurch and now in Wellington en-route to the regions then New York, Songs For Nobodies is not to be missed.
A raised stage, bare but for a single grey bentwood chair, is backed by beige drops that conceal – until they are lit – a trio of musicians. This, in effect, is the blank canvass upon which Ali Harper’s extraordinary performance(s) of Joanna Murray-Smith’s ingenious play-with-songs materialises.
Directed by the Court Theatre’s Ross Gumbley on Richard Van den Berg’s set, the minimalist simplicity is dynamically enhanced at key moments by Sean Harkness’s lighting design, impeccably operated by Te Aihe Butler.
The trio – Daniel Hayles (piano), Johnny Lawrence (double bass) and Lance Philip (drums) – establish the low-key jazz-club mood and go on to back the ten songs Harper treats us to with deceptively casual precision. Simple projected graphics tell us when and where we are as the monologues of five ‘nobodies’ morph into stunning impersonations of the iconic singers they have encountered in the course of their relatively menial jobs.
On April 23 1961, in a ladies’ restroom at a Plaza somewhere in Manhattan, attendant Bea Appleton, whose husband George has just left her, is contemplating the nature of ‘happiness’ when Miss Judy Garland drops in for a pee and needs a dropped hem repaired. A fleeting connection ensues that leads to Ali Harper morphing into Judy Garland to render ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ (just one of the 26 numbers she delivered at the Carnegie Hall concert that came to be called “the greatest night in show business history”).
We are in Kansas City’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, on March 3 1962, to share usherette and aspiring country singer Pearl Avalon’s thoughts on “following your dreams” and her unexpected experience of meeting Patsy Cline. Pearl belts out ‘Stand By Your Man’ and honours a request from Patsy with ‘Amazing Grace’ (acapella) before we get Patsy’s performances of ‘San Antonio Rose’ and ‘Crazy’, with surprising input from Pearl. There is a poignant coda to this warm encounter between two women at opposite ends of the dream-fulfilment spectrum.
In 2010 Edie Delamotte, a bilingual librarian in West Bridgford, a small village outside Nottingham, matter-of-factly recalls her Father’s fondness for reading her ‘The Little Prince’ and his experiences in the French Resistance by way of bringing us into the magnetic presence of Edith Piaf. The juxtaposition of Edie’s quietly English, self-deprecatory, poker-faced delivery with Piaf’s overt sensuality produces delightful comedy amidst the harrowing recollections of Nazi occupation and the bravery of ‘the little sparrow’. In this context ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ becomes especially powerful.
And so to the story of ‘Too Junior’ Jones, the young New York Times journalist determined to break free of the Fashion Page and become a serious writer in 1947. Her break comes with a challenge to produce an 800-word profile of jazz singer Billie Holiday, whose infamous alcohol and drug abuse presents a significant barrier until she recognises a kindred spirit, given she came to her fame too soon.
Topping the brilliance we’ve been treated to so far, Harper is hauntingly ‘on the money’ with her searing renditions of ‘Strange Fruit’, ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ and ‘T’aint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do’.
In her final incarnation as a ‘nobody’, Harper becomes Irish nanny Orla McDonagh, who scores a job on Aristotle Onassis’s palatial super-yacht Christina O in the late 1950s amid a celebrity guest-list that includes the Churchills and opera diva Maria Callas. Thus Puccini’s grief-stricken aria, ‘Vissi d’Arte’ (I live for my art) from Tosca, brings the night to a close, bringing a rapturous full house to its feet, astonished at, and hugely appreciative of, the consummate artistry of Ali Harper.
The lively post-show chat reveals some people missed some of the fast-spoken and heavily accented spoken words (easily remedied) and others would rather have had more singing and less talk. But for me the revisiting of these well-known songs in the context of hitherto invisible lives revitalises and enriches them.
The playwright’s skills and perfectly pitched production values provide a vehicle for much more than a mere concert of disparate songs and impersonations. By serving the purpose of the work with such integrity, focus and extraordinary talent, Harper transcends the ‘star’ label to prove herself a true artist.
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Depth, clarity, energy and accuracy
Review by Viv Milsom 24th May 2018
Playing to a full house, from the moment she stepped on stage Ali Harper wowS her audience with her classy acting and singing in this one-woman show. A successful Court Theatre production, Songs for Nobodies is now being toured across the country. If you get a chance to see it, take it.
Written by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, Songs for Nobodies brings to life five of the 20th Century’s singing legends: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas. We meet these legends through five different “nobodies”: a cloakroom attendant who fixes Judy Garland’s hem; a theatre usher who dreams of being a singer and is asked to join Patsy Cline on stage as a backing vocalist; a junior journalist sent to interview Billie Holiday; an English librarian whose father had been saved by Edith Piaf during World War II; an Irish nanny working on the luxury yacht where Maria Callas is a guest.
Contrived? You bet, but ‘nobody’ cares because Ali Harper is so convincing in each of these roles. Her timing and quick fire delivery have the audience laughing at the same time as they recognise the sadness, not only in the lives of the ‘nobodies’, but also in the lives of the singers themselves. As the cloakroom attendant says in the opening scene, “Happiness is the temporary illusion that nothing will happen for the worse.”
And then there’s her voice. Ali Harper has a range and depth and clarity which, combined with her acting ability, make for a stunning performance. In singing their signature songs, she brought an energy and accuracy to the stage which left the audience in no doubt they were enjoying a very special talent.
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Hilarious, mesmerising, eerie and sad
Review by Alana Dixon-Calder 20th May 2018
There is something quite captivating behind the concept of Songs for Nobodies, written by playwright Joanna Murray-Smith: what connections are being forged, unknown, between a great voice and the people listening to her? What impact, profound or otherwise, does hearing a soul laid bare by somebody with stratospheric talent have on the rest of us – the people whose names others won’t remember?
It’s almost hard to fathom that Songs for Nobodies, directed by Ross Gumbley, is a one-woman show. Ali Harper, from the very beginning, does a beautiful, believable job of embodying the different personas we meet.
They’re the legends: Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf et al.
They’re the anonymous: a librarian from Nottingham, Pearl Avalon the usher, an Irish nanny, ‘Too Junior Jones’ flailing to get the scoop on Holiday that will make or break her journalistic career. In Harper’s hands, they are all memorable.
In particular, the mannerisms Harper adopts for each character are particularly charming. She is a fantastic actor and has vocal ability to match. Most of us could not do justice to a single character in the show: but she makes us feel each of the 10 women portrayed is a fully formed person, and inhabits their different accents, stories, characters, styles of song – it is impressive stuff. In Harper’s hands the show is in turns hilarious, mesmerising, eerie and sad.
At its heart Songs for Nobodies is a clever show that reminds us that, despite their fame and fortune, the women whose names have been etched into show biz history are often as miserable as the rest of us. As Holiday, Harper asks, “What do happy people sing about?” That single line underscores a common thread running through the show.
It is clearly no accident that each of the singers featured (Cline, Holiday, Piaf, plus Judy Garland and Maria Callas) are remembered as much for their personal notoriety as they are for their talent or that each met a tragically early end. Perhaps the answer as to why the greats have such an impact on the not-so-greats lies somewhere here.
There are two real stand out performances: the aforementioned librarian, who recounts the spine-tingling tale of her father’s rescue from certain death at Dachau through a chance encounter with the Little Sparrow (Piaf), and Harper’s rendition of Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday’s unflinching portrayal of the United States’ brutal and systematic racism and in particular the lynchings of African Americans.
A special mention must also go to the lighting design by Sean Harkness and Khalid Parkar. It subtly changes throughout the course of the show to further define the perspective of each character, and is used to fantastic effect to smooth the transitions between the key players the audience is introduced to.
If you have the chance to see Songs for Nobodies, please do.
The women you will meet are worth knowing.
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A stunningly expressive command of characterisation and song
Review by Adam Dodd 20th Aug 2017
In Songs for Nobodies, Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith (Bombshells and The Female of the Species) provides equal measure of humour and humanity. Constructed through a series of anecdotes rife with insight and intelligence, Songs poignantly explores the alchemical influence that chance encounters can, both directly and indirectly, play in our lives.
Everyday encounters are formative over time but Songs considers incidental transformative encounters: brushes with fame, the stars of their time; Stars with a capital and scintillating S. Taken as a whole, it is clear that these transformations are not to be thought driven by desire for success and fame, but by the humanity, compassion, fortitude and intellect of the women portrayed – everyday and extraordinary alike. Any nascent change is actively claimed rather than passively received, as we see in the final anecdote – a notable counterpoint as it is the only segment where the encounter is primarily between the female protagonist and a man of power and wealth.
The slices-of-life structure is not necessarily for everyone – my partner in attending Songs doesn’t engage with the stories that unfold and isn’t interested in the thesis I conjecture at its heart. That noted, the distinct segments of the play are undeniably touching, humorous, witty and deeply thoughtful; ten distinct identities emerging in stunning detail – accent, mannerisms and personality. Eleven, as it seems important to acknowledge the numinous anima of Ali Harper, which is never quite eclipsed by her portrayal of the character at the fore.
It is little wonder that playwright Murray-Smith insisted on Harper before granting NZ performance rights. Her expressive command of characterisation and song – catalysed through the guidance of Ross Gumbly (Director) and Richard Marrett (Musical Direction) – is stunning. There are a few momentary hick-ups, but these are absorbed almost unnoticed into the nuance of character.
Set in a starkly elegant and angular modernity, empty save for Harper and a single chair, Set Designer Richard Van Den Berg capitalises on a number cunningly wrought flourishes. These mark transitions in the scene without compromising the integrity of the whole. Adding to this are the often subtle influences of Sean Hawkins (Lighting Design) and Giles Tanner (Sound). Subtle, perhaps, but each proves an adept illusionist: redefining the mood and our sense of space masterfully.
The combined result is beautiful.
Even if you only go for the music, Songs for Nobodies is an exquisite evening out. Experience it while you can.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
You would be mad not to go and sparkle in Ali Harper’s light
Review by Grant Hindin Miller 18th Jun 2017
Penned by Melbourne playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, Songs for Nobodies is a tribute to five female musical legends: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas (all of whom died prematurely: Cline at 30, Billie Holiday at 44, Garland and Piaf at 47, and Maria Callas at 54). The play is superb; a brilliant, simply structured stage celebration.
Although it is essentially a one-woman show (there are three live musicians) it is much more than a revue or concert; Songs for Nobodies is an engaging, poignant and, at times, humorous dramatic presentation of ten characters.
This remarkably assured production does not rely on props, flamboyant makeup, loud costume changes or fireworks, it relies on sheer talent – on the hard won decades-long accumulated skills of acting, singing, voice work, stage presence and dramaturgical acumen of Ali Harper. In fact there would be few performers who could manage this production but Ali Harper wears it like a glove which could have been fashioned for her and for her alone.
We should also acknowledge the inspired hand of the Director. “I knew it would be perfect for Ali Harper’s talent and range,” says Court Theatre Artistic Director, Ross Gumbley, “and Murray-Smith agreed, in fact she insisted that if we were to stage Songs for Nobodies, it could be only with Ali, and that is how we exclusively won the rights to stage Songs for Nobodies in New Zealand.”
Like so many, I have enjoyed Ali Harper’s performances over many years but in this production we are transfixed by a performer at her peak. In fact she is so good that at times, I hardly recognise her – she has become the alter egos she represents. Ten personalities, ten accents, varying from New York, mid-West, England and Ireland. And she channels the essence of each of the five musical legends in posture and song. What a vocal range, what fine handling of the various styles she has to sing, what poise and stage presence she brings to each vignette. What an absolute star.
This is a demanding role, though you would hardly know it, given her mastery of the material. From the outset you are invited into an intimate relationship with a sympathetic ‘nobody’ who, to her utter amazement, finds herself in the same public washroom as Judy Garland, and the scene unfolds beautifully, believably, as Ali Harper plays both characters in dialogue. She has us from that first exchange and she does not let up for the whole performance.
My favourite character is Edie Delamore, a librarian from West Bridgford, Nottingham, who recounts a personal family link with Edith Piaf. ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday is a powerful moment in the show, and the humour and poignancy of the philosophising young Irish nanny, Orla McDonagh, on board the Onassis yacht in the Mediterranean, is a delight.
Legend or nobody, it’s part of the human condition to struggle – we all struggle. As Patsy Cline notes, “Applause don’t help you when you’re in your bed at night.”
Superbly directed, who needs props, costume changes or elaborate sets with such evocative lighting effects (designed and operated by Sean Hawkins). Songs for Nobodies is supported by three unobtrusive, yet essential, musicians: Musical Director Richard Marrett on piano, Michael Story on bass, and Tim Sellars on drums. Each instrument has its solo moments and, combined, the accompaniment is sophisticated and always on the money. It’s the lot of the musicians to be in the background but their expertise is fully appreciated. Special laurels to Richard, Michael, and Tim.
Congratulations to all involved in what is a rich theatrical production. I absolutely loved it. And an accolade for Ali Harper who dropped from the sky to shine on this stage. You would be mad not to go and sparkle in her light.
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Editor June 22nd, 2017
Here is the link to Grant Hindin Miller’s chat with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ National about SONGS FOR NOBODIES.