Director: Edward Hall
Damaged, drunk, drugged and demoralised, Issy Van Randwyck’s collection of Dazzling Divas put on quite a show in this 1 hour and 50-minute cabaret which arrives at the Jermyn Street Theatre as part of the Footlights Festival. Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass, Karen Carpenter, Dusty Springfield and the tragic stories behind their songs emerge from Van Randwyck in this one-woman musical tour of the twentieth century that is very dazzling indeed.
What separates Dazzling Divas from the many similar shows and impersonations of music’s grand dames is how smartly Van Randwyck aligns the biography of her stars with the song selection, so when she interrupts her rendition of Holiday’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business to recount the singer’s tragic early life, it sets the context for the songs to come as Van Randwyck goes on to perform Strange Fruit, You Go to My Head and All of Me peppered with tales of substance abuse, racial segregation, arrest and incarceration all of which enhance the meaning of these tragic melodies.
Van Randwyck rather masterfully captures Holiday’s intonation and vocal tics that move her versions of these songs beyond imitations, something she manages faultlessly with each of the six singers to come. Her breathy Monroe begins to incorporate Marilyn’s own words as well as her sad life story, which returns some sense of agency to the music, particularly in Running Wild when the actress launches her own production company, while River of No Return captures the loneliness of her final years.
As Dazzling Divas runs on, there is a startling consistency in the stories of these women – maltreated in a series of terrible relationships, most addicted to drink or drugs and, with a couple of exceptions, few reach 40. As Van Randwyck sings Janis Joplin’s What Good Will Drinking Do?, it reaches beyond Joplin’s own biography and into those of the other singers being showcased. Van Randwyck’s production subtly makes clear that their talent existed in spite of the lives they were given.
The selection of the divas is less clear within the show’s structure, completing a set for each singer before moving onto the next, and why Van Randwyck has a particular affinity with these seven performers is the missing element in the show. Her first album, on cassette, was by Karen Carpenter and Van Randwyck is clearly very affected when she speaks of the singer’s death – only time a truly personal connection to these songs and stories is revealed.
Sustaining the vocal and musical styles of these very different performers is quite a task across almost two hours and while the sections on Patsy Cline and Dusty Springfield lack the hurt of the original performer, Van Randwyck is a wonderful singer, her range and tonal qualities perfectly suited to the intimate Jermyn Street space. Supported by Michael Halam, Paul Moylan and Director Edward Hall on piano, bass and guitar, this show is a fine and beautiful tribute to talent of seven remarkable Dazzling Divas.
Runs until 20 June 2021