The classics never go out of style. Vivienne Powell’s Sentimental Journey captures three of them: Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, and Doris Day, and, in her cabaret-style show, tells their life stories along with the stories of their songs.
These ladies are a hot commodity of late. The formidable Rhonda Burchmore debuted her lovingly-crafted Cry Me a River in tribute to Julie London earlier this year; Melinda Schneider has been touring her Doris Day act around since 2011. And, of course, everyone loves Ella. It’s almost like oversaturation to have these stories distilled into a three-in-one, but since there’s always room in the landscape for the standards – and since talented women deserve to be celebrated – that fact can be overlooked.
Powell is a fan and Powell’s cabaret feels like a genuine and personal tribute. She sings with honesty and conviction – there is more conviction and confidence in every song than there is in any reading of her script – and she speaks haltingly but with respect of these women and their families which are broken and tumultuous and sometimes happy. Sometimes she focuses on the children, particularly Doris Day’s strong relationship with her son, and when Powell is handed a bouquet at curtain call, she introduces the flower-bearer as her own son. And it clicks – she’s a mother, too.
Sentimental Journey feels personal – a mother honouring other mothers, a singer praising her inspirations. Powell tells us the show is a labor of love and has been so for a few years now. As the act wears on, she grows more comfortable on stage. After intermission, she’s even lively, and when she comes into the audience to dance and flirt her way through ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’ it’s a joyful experience. One audience member leaped out of his seat to dance with her, and in that moment, twirling with a stranger, Powell seemed girlish, delighted, Doris.
This one night only engagement has a reprise next month, and expect the show to be better, stronger, smoother by then – Powell admitted halfway through the show her script was overwritten and needed to be edited so she could memorise it better – and it’s good to know that the shakiness of the night could disappear for the next time around.
All the songs were there. ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘Que Sera Sera’, ‘Cry Me a River’. But the best surprise of the night came right before intermission, when Powell gave homage to another great female vocalist – opera diva Maria Callas. Powell soared, and even better – she looked happy doing it.
This is worth catching the second time around if you missed it the first time – take along the older person in your life, like your grandma, and make their day.