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BACH TO BARBRA (article first published : 2004-08-25)

Soprano Stacey Almond is back with a varied programme of music under the banner Bach to Barbra, accompanied by David Daniel on piano and Sarah Pudifin on violin. The show had its first airing at Rhumbelow Theatre over the weekend August 13 to 15.

Much back-bending has been done in the choice of music, and I’m not sure the result achieves the alliterative scope the show’s title suggests. This is not a comprehensive or chronological journey through 300 years of music, but a random selection of songs. Most are from the latter half of the twentieth century, and the few pieces composed by operatic masters have been given a thorough working over with that sledgehammer called ‘crossover’.

Making the move from pop to classical music is tricky. Sarah Brightman, as an example, may sell albums by the truckload, but she would be laughed off the stage in any opera house in the world. And yet, like others of her ilk, she claims to be introducing the classics to a younger audience. This is not so. When classical compositions are dissected and reworked, they become a far cry from the originals.

Classically trained musicians who have made the transition to contemporary music are often more successful. Ann Sofie Von Otter, Ute Lemper, Bobby Mc Ferrin, Frank Zappa are a few worth mentioning.

Bach to Barbra, if given a rethink, could become a better show. Not all the songs in this programme suit Stacey Almond’s voice. At times she is sharp or strident. The version of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly left me in no doubt as to why the dashing American failed to reclaim his Japanese siren.

This changes when she sings material that works for her, visibly relaxing and owning the material. Her Sondheim renditions were enjoyable. A less rigid singer appears here, beautifully gowned and surrounded by swathes of luxuriant fabric.

Bright and engaging Sarah Pudifin revs up the pace with an acoustic violin while David Daniel valiantly wrestles a piano that, in keeping with the military theme of the Rhumbelow, sounds as if it served as a trench in World War 1. Roland Stansell and his team have invested much energy in this venue, improving the facilities and transforming a drab hall into a charming theatre. A decent piano must be added to the shopping list.

The three performers work the tiny space well, showing off an interesting range of costumes and wigs. Caroline Smart’s deft hand can be seen in the direction, but all of this fails to ignite into something memorable. Wooden narrative between songs does not help either.

Elements of a successful show are here. Some tweaks in the repertoire would be a good start.

However, while I might have had reservations about certain aspects of the show, the audience response was highly enthusiastic and apparently had been for the two previous shows. - Clinton Marius




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