Brian Hunt of the National Post thinks I’m dull

December 15th, 2006 § 0 comments

Where is O’Callaghan coming from? [National Edition]
Brian Hunt. National Post. Don Mills, Ont.: Aug 18, 1999. pg. B.12

PATRICIA O’CALLAGHAN

Premiere Dance Theatre, Toronto

It’s disconcerting when the singer is stage left and her voice is stage right. Especially when the amplification makes it sound as if she’s even further away — on the line from Sydney, perhaps. Then, while you’re trying to take this in, you notice she’s limping. She’s come on stage with one high heel on her foot, the other in her hand.

In the midst of all this, it hardly registers that she’s warbling Kurt Weill — a composer usually associated with guttural recitation that aspires to song only wearily — like a Mozart soubrette. “I’m a stranger here myself,” she sings. You’re not the only one feeling a bit disoriented, Miss O’Callaghan.

At 28, the native of Dryden, Ont., is enjoying plenty of publicity for her take on Weill, other European cabaret composers of the same between-the-wars era, and a few choices of her own thrown into the mixture. Go to her gigs and you’ll hear Poulenc, Leonard Cohen and Tom Jones rubbing shoulders with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Chopin. It ought not to work. And it doesn’t, quite.

Three people are credited with directing her current show at the Premiere Dance Theatre. Yet the overriding impression is of someone having a go at as many popular styles as possible, with very little thought for the structure or rhythm of the sequence. Randy Newman’s Real Emotional Girl makes the first intimate contact with the udience and could prepare the way for two or three more quiet, soulful numbers. But immediately she gurgles “Tragedy is for suckers!” grabs a tambourine and sprints around stage trilling It’s Not Unsual.

Working an audience in this repertoire depends on establishing a consistent character, at least for each group of songs. That character can be the singer’s own, or a part she or he is playing. What O’Callaghan put across most obviously before intermission was a lack of confidence. If you’re going to wiggle your svelte buttocks at an audience, you ought to suggest that you’re enjoying it and invite them to do the same.

The interventions of Mark Christmann as “a man” are amusing but confusing. He’s planted in the audience, and responds to the star’s request for a water bottle. This creates a bewildering context for the next song, Sondheim’s Losing My Mind, a heartrendingly accurate dissection of the obsessional nature of adulterous love. Is she singing it to Christmann? Apparently not.

Later, he climbs on stage as her dance partner for Cohen’s Take this Waltz, and flits in and out of the action whenever (you guess) there’s a worry the audience’s attention might be drifting. It is unfortunate that he looks so much happier on stage than she does.

By the first night’s second half, the electronic mangling of the vocals had been fixed, though not the discrepancy between the artist’s position and the apparent source of the sound. She sings well, mostly. Although it’s weird to hear these hard-bitten songs floated in a chaste soprano, she has the advantage of a light voice – – this isn’t one of those ghastly Brunnhilde-sings-Broadway crossover experiences. If you are going to visit such diva-trampled territory as Weill, it’s essential to bring something new. She’s attempting that, to her credit.

O’Callaghan was accompanied by the attentive and discreet percussionist Trevor Tureski, and the diligent but sometimes dull Gregory Oh on piano. Torch songs in particular suffered from mutual tentativeness from singer and pianist.

Patricia O’Callaghan has potential. She has talent. She has good looks. Cabaret songs may or may not be the repertoire in which she eventually excels. This local girl needs a firmer grasp of stagecraft and more help with structuring a show if she is going to make good. Meanwhile, can somebody explain that business with the shoes?

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