David Campbell Sings John Bucchino

Hayes Theatre Co, June 18

John Bucchino and David Campbell. Photo: Sam Bratby

John Bucchino and David Campbell. Photo: Sam Bratby

David Campbell and renowned songwriter John Bucchino met in New York 17 years ago. Friends ever since, their ease with each other shows in their new cabaret show David Campbell Sings John Bucchino currently playing as part of the Hayes Theatre Co Cabaret Season.

In the intimate setting of the tiny theatre, with Bucchino on piano, they perform songs from across Bucchino’s career, from the heartfelt “Grateful” to the jazzy “Puddle of Love” to a number from the DreamWorks animated film Joseph: King of Dreams.

They’re beautiful songs with lovely, sophisticated melodies and lyrics in which Bucchino wears his heart on his sleeve. Many have a theatrical feel and a strong sense of storytelling. They may not be widely known but they are accessible.

Campbell sings most of them though Bucchino does a few himself, while Bucchino has the lion’s share of the patter as he talks (delightfully) about how the two met, his career and the inspiration for the numbers (often love and loss). Campbell chips in with the odd witty comment and bit of banter but for the most part stands respectfully to one side when Bucchino chats.

When it comes to the musical numbers, Campbell is in fine voice, singing with supreme control and beauty, and connecting to the lyrics with great sensitivity. Highlights include his dramatic performance of “I Stayed” from Bucchino’s 2008 Broadway musical A Catered Affair  – how good it would be to see him back on stage in a musical – and a moving version of Learn How to Say Goodbye, as well as Bucchino singing songs like Unexpressed.

The chance to get so up close and personal with the composer and hear his songs performed by such a superb interpreter makes this a special show.

David Campbell sings John Bucchino is at the Hayes Theatre Co until June 28 and at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta on June 29

A version of this review appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on June 22

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The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe: review

Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, May 10

It must have taken an enormous amount of courage for Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe to discuss their harrowing life stories with writer/director Ros Horin.

To then relive them on stage can’t be easy either – but the experiences of these four women are at the heart of a shocking, moving but joyous new production called The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe.

Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

It is almost three years since Horin began researching the project and as she says in the theatre program the journey has been “intense, emotional, at times extremely disturbing. Full of tears, full of laughter, warmth, sharing, drumming, singing, dancing and mostly enriching, uplifting, inspiring.”

Bangura grew up in a refugee camp in Guinea having witnessed shocking barbarity during the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Conteh-Biger, the daughter of a wealthy Muslim businessman, was kidnapped and abused by rebels when they invaded the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown. She was the first refugee to arrive in Australia from Sierra Leone in 2000.

Haile-Michael was abandoned by her father (who killed her mother) at age three and was then kidnapped, abused and forced to fight as a child soldier for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, before escaping to a Sudanese refugee camp. Kuriuki-Fyfe fled domestic violence in Kenya.

All four now live happy, productive lives in Sydney where they have variously learned to read, love, form friendships and (as told in a hilariously sweet story) ride an escalator. Each in their own way is working to help others.

Though untrained as performers the four women – each of them such different personalities – all have a strong stage presence.

In telling their stories they are joined on stage by professional actors Nancy Denis, Tariro Mavondo and Effie Nkrumah, singer/songwriter Aminata Doumbia, and dancers Eden Dessalegn and Lisa Viola.

Horin’s production uses a patchwork of storytelling, music, dance, video projections and humour. Sometimes the women call on other performers to talk for them at particularly difficult parts of their story, while they watch quietly.

Their experiences are intercut with other lighter-hearted scenes such as a quiz about the geography of Africa, a demonstration of the various different African dance styles and a gathering in a hairdressing salon.

Dan Potra’s set – a large hanging carpet with pot plants and wooden stools – is an evocative backdrop (lit by Nicholas Rayment), which is matched by the women’s wonderfully colourful clothes.

Running 100 minutes without interval, a little tightening wouldn’t go astray but The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is a powerful, uplifting and humbling experience.

As well as a shocking insight into the horrific, systemic violence against women taking place in parts of Africa, it is a celebration of the resilience and spirit of these four remarkable women as well as a powerful plea for refugee support programs.

Riverside Theatres until May 18; Belvoir St Theatre, August 15 – September 15