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Review – Pennsylvania Avenue: Mesmerising performance

Right: Bernadette Robinson

Pennsylvania Avenue

By Joanna Murray-Smith

Directed by Simon Philips

Musical Director Ian McDonald

Cremorne Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


New season: Sydney Opera House Playhouse, 28 April 2016– 22 May 2016. Running Time: 90 minutes, no interval. Bookings: 02 9250 7777

Bernadette Robinson is a runaway hit train. She magically creates a character relaying the tale and then morphs easily in and out of the voice and mannerisms of famous divas of the past. She is just as much at home with Judy Garland, Patsy Kline or Maria Callas. Her sell-out one-woman shows include: You Might As Well Leave, Calling all Angels, Patsy Cline: Her Songs, Her Story and he last one Songs for Nobodies.

I thoroughly enjoyed Songs for Nobodies, with a script by Joanna Murray-Smith and directed by Simon Phillips that I felt I had to see this new one from the same team.

She had a short season in Brisbane and I was lucky enough to catch her final show in The Cremorne Theatre. And I am so glad I did.

Bernadette created a magical evening that entwined her acting and singing talents and gave us a history lesson too. The woman is simply mesmerising on stage and with eyes closed when she was singing it was easy to picture the star on stage so good was her style and characterisation

In Pennsylvania Avenue she has created a new collection of legendary singers with strong connections to the White House in the US either as visitors, in concerts,recitals, friendships and sometimes even more.

The show opens on an impressive set which portrays the Blue Room at the White House. There are portraits of past presidents around the wall which in return are used as digital projections of the stars and events of events from John Kennedy through to Bill Clinton.

We meet Harper Clements, a 60 year-old White House entertainment officer who is packing up her belongings after quitting her job of 40 years because she was moved to the on-line department.

She was a naive young woman from Thunderbolt, Georgia who , after a disastrous love affair joined the White House staff on the lowest ladder of success, but was soon drafted into the entertainment department.

Her introduction to her life was a near-perfect impersonation of Marilyn Monroe's legendary Happy Birthday Mr. President for JFK and then rips into a credible imitation of Maria Callas singing an aria from Carmen.

Then, in between anecdotes she channels the voices, among many, of Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Eartha Kitt, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross, Peggy Lee, Tammy Wynnet, Dolly Parton and a dynamic impersonation of soul queen Aretha Franklin and even an amazing imitation of Bob Dylan singing Eve of Destruction.

She even manages to convey the presidential voices when she tells her stories. She is such a talented singer and performer she engages the audience very second of the 90 minutes she is on stage.

Sydney is in for a treat next month.

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