Each character is smartly sketched and distinct. There’s an English librarian whose father was spirited out of a Nazi concentration camp by Edith Piaf’s entourage after a concert. There’s a back-up singer discovered by Patsy Cline not long before the plane crash that took the star’s life.
Bernadette Robinson’s talent for vocal impersonation inspires … close your eyes and you might as well be listening to the originals.
A powder room attendant going through a messy divorce spills her guts to Judy Garland. An Irish maid recalls her time aboard Aristotle Onassis’ luxury yacht (and the immortal voice of his lover, Maria Callas, singing at night). And a journalist, keen to escape the fashion pages, sets up an interview with Billie Holiday at the height of her powers.
Robinson slips into character as if each were a tailored garment, and you can only admire the precision of her accents and her deftness at drawing the audience conspiratorially into each tale. But it’s her talent for vocal impersonation – for channelling the spirit of these great and charismatic women of song – that inspires the loudest applause.
She can sing the vaulting arias of Callas or Piaf’s trenchant Non, je ne Regrette Rien, the honeyed well of Cline’s classic country voice or the enormity of the suffering in Holiday’s Strange Fruit, with such impeccable mimicry that the singers live again. Close your eyes, and you might as well be listening to the originals.
If anything, Songs For Nobodies has improved with age. It’s tighter, more confident and relaxed, and between Murray-Smith’s crisp writing and Robinson’s staggering performance, it should please new audiences, and those keen to see it again.