Turner’s Turn

Hayes Theatre Co, February 22

Geraldine Turner. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Geraldine Turner. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Returning to the cabaret stage for the first time in a decade, Geraldine Turner goes straight to it, opening her new show Turner’s Turn with the epic Rose’s Turn from Gypsy.

It’s a bold, almost bolshy choice both for her and the audience as it’s a song you would generally build to emotionally. But it does capture the kind of big, brassy chutzpah for which Turner is known.

She was cast as Rose in three different productions, she tells us, none of which happened. Cue a version of Some People with comic lyrics Tony Sheldon wrote for her.

Turner shot to fame in 1973 when she played the maid Petra in a production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which opened Sydney’s new Her Majesty’s Theatre. By all accounts (I didn’t see it), her rendition of The Miller’s Son was a show-stopper.

Her four-decade career has been predominantly, though not exclusively, in musical theatre and she has the kudos of being the first person to have recorded an all-Sondheim album. (She met Sondheim and Hal Prince when they came to a musical theatre conference in Sydney in the 1970s).

In Turner’s Turn, she tells a series of entertaining, behind-the-scenes stories about various shows from her career including Sydney Theatre Company’s infamous, troubled production of Into the Woods, in which Turner played the Baker’s Wife. It opened two weeks late due to challenges caused by a double revolve, but went on to be a huge hit. There’s also a very funny story about Doris Fitton’s failing memory when she played Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music.

Turner brings a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour to the anecdotes, which she tells with verve. It’s in the storytelling that the show hits its mark. Musically, it’s more hit-and-miss.

She sings a career medley with brief extracts from shows including Oliver!, Anything Goes, Chicago (in which she starred with Nancye Hayes for STC), Company and Sweeney Todd among others.

She also performs a song Tim Minchin wrote especially for her when she was in the musical Somewhere by Minchin and Kate Mulvany at the Q Theatre, and a (fairly underwhelming) number from a new musical she is writing herself with Greg Crease.

There’s an interesting section when she sings an extract from a musical of Sunset Boulevard written for Gloria Swanson, and intercuts it with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s number for the same part of the story, As If We Never Said Goodbye.

She brings a nice sense of comedy to Sondheim’s The Boy From….. and I Never Do Anything Twice but the emotion she clearly feels while performing a couple of Jacques Brel numbers doesn’t communicate itself to the audience. And if you’re not going to deliver a riveting interpretation of Send in the Clowns, why perform such a ubiquitous song?

Turner’s trademark belt is still there but her voice is insecure and shaky at times, and exposed in certain song choices.

Directed by Caroline Stacey, with sensitive accompaniment on piano by her musical director Brad Miller, Turner’s Turn feels a bit overlong at 90 minutes and could be tightened. A little more context would also help at times for those who don’t know a great deal about her career.

But her fans love her for who she is and what she has achieved. They recognise her braveness in putting together a show of this nature at this point in her career and they weren’t disappointed, with a large section of the opening night audience giving her a huge, enthusiastic response.

Turner’s Turn is at the Hayes Theatre Co on March 1 and 8

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