Theatre / “Shakespeare and his Mistress”. By Paul Kauffman, directed by Cate Clelland. At ANU School of Music Big Band Room, September 21. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE
IF you subscribe to the idea that you should leave a cabaret performance knowing more about the performer than when you went in, then “Turner’s Turn” ticks all the boxes.
Among her accomplishments, Turner was the first female artist in the world to release a record album devoted entirely to the songs of Stephens Sondheim. She was also in the original Australian casts for four Sondheim musicals, and the show’s title “Turner’s Turn” hints at why she was not in the fifth.
In fact, her show commences with a riveting rendition of “Roses Turn”, following which she reveals how she was scheduled to star in four different productions of “Gypsy”, none of which transpired. A rueful parody of a song from the show, “I Had a Dream”, reveals how she coped with these setbacks.
Sondheim features largely in Turner’s career and elsewhere in the show, her moving version of “Send in the Clowns”, together with snippets of songs from “Sweeney Todd”, “Into the Woods” and “Chicago” and a cheeky version of “The Boy From……”, reveal her mastery of the Sondheim repertoire.
But “Turner’s Turn” is not about Sondheim. It’s a celebration of Turner’s unique talent and her enduring success as a leading lady in a highly competitive art form. Her song choices are personal, but not self- indulgent, and chosen for what they subtly reveal about her.
There’s a long, often surprising, medley of songs from shows in which she has appeared during her career. There’s an emotional rendering of Jacque Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas”. A clever arrangement of two songs from two different musical versions of “Sunset Boulevard” allowed her to pay tribute to Gloria Swanson. There’s a song written for her by Tim Minchin, and even one of her own compositions from her forthcoming musical “Drama Queen”.
Turner doesn’t hold back, unselfconsciously sharing candid showbiz anecdotes, and juicy backstage gossip with her audience as if they were old friends, which of course they are by the time the show ends, Subtle lighting design and the superb piano accompaniment of Michael Tyack add gloss to a polished and memorable presentation.