Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review: Johanna Allen – The Songs That Got Away: The Music of Harold Arlen
Johanna Allen. Photo by Ella Benove Rowe

Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review: Johanna Allen – The Songs That Got Away: The Music of Harold Arlen

The writer of song’s like That Old Black Magic, Let’s Fall in Love and Over the Rainbow is fondly remembered in this tribute to the Music of Harold Arlen.

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Johanna Allen. Photo by Ella Benove Rowe
Johanna Allen. Photo by Ella Benove Rowe

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 11 June 2014

Harold Arlen may not be a household name, but his songs are loved across the world.

The writer of song’s like That Old Black Magic, Let’s Fall in Love and Over the Rainbow (yes, that one from The Wizard of Oz we can all sing along to fluently) is fondly remembered in Johanna Allen’s cabaret tribute The Songs That Got Away: The Music of Harold Arlen.

Directed by Stuart Maunder, with musical direction by Michael Tyack, this show traces Arlen’s path to semi-fame, and also follows the talented women who sung his songs. It is a well-balanced show containing brief interludes of story-telling and explosions of song.

Allen herself is a talented and well-versed singer who can control her voice really well. While there were a few flat notes here and there, there was nothing to really complain about. She can definitely belt out some impressive roars when it comes to it, and can also sing sultrily and sadly.

Her acting ability is also well-developed, utilising a number of different accents to tell the story of Arlen. Her Russian one seems a little forced, but hey, who can really pull of that accent without actually being Russian themselves?! She manages, however, to pull of some nice 30s and 40s Harlem accents and draws us into a time gone by. She portrays the likes of Ethyl Waters and Judy Garland, as well as Arlen himself, with apparent ease.

The highlight of the performance was, of course, the music. Arlen’s songs were varied and unique for the time, with great bubbly tracks and some emotive romantic ones. Of course, the early 20th century was a different era and a lot of the songs now seem dated, but Allen manages to breathe new life into them… perhaps not enough to bring them back into fashion, but enough for us to realise how great they must have sounded back then. Unfortunately, a lot of the songs seem to blend in with one another after a while, leaving things a bit tedious towards the end. The bits of exposition between songs really helped to break things up though.

Allen is definitely an attention grabbing and almost hypnotic performer. Everyone in the audience seemed to have their eyes and ears glued to the stage for the whole performance and, in the end, decided to hand a standing ovation to Allen.

So if you want to be taken back to the “Harlem Renaissance” and hear some of the world’s favourite songs sung by one of our own Adelaidian wonders then catch The Songs That Got Away. It could only be more 40s if it were held in a smoke-filled, downtown blues club.

Reviewed by James Rudd

Venue: Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William St
Season: 19-20 June
Duration: 1 hour 10 minutes
Tickets: $34.90 – $39.90
Bookings: Book online through the Adelaide Cabaret Festival website or phone BASS on 131 246

 

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