Nothing like a Dame – or two

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Published: 26th March, 2017

‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ is a line we hear in a delightful show that recently premiered at Beleura House in Mornington. This historic home and gardens are a perfect setting for There is Absolutely Nothing Like A Dame or “Sing ‘em Muck!”, a fictitious imagining of an afternoon with the two great singing dames of the early 20th century, Australian soprano Nellie Melba and British contralto Clara Butt.

Melba fans will know the apocryphal story of Melba advising Butt to “sing ‘em muck” on Butt’s tour of Australia, a story which didn’t show Melba in a good light. But it was blamed on a journalist with a gripe with Melba, so in this show, Melba defends herself by claiming that what she really said was “Sing ‘em Bach!” What we might these days call a good save…

Amanda Stevenson as Melba and Jenny Wakefield as Butt bring a wealth of theatrical experience to their roles, and it’s their fine stagecraft that brings the two great Dames to life. Accomplished writer/director Brenda Addie has brought out fine characterizations from these two actor/singers, and I was easily convinced I was watching the real thing. MC Kirk Alexander doubles in a few small male roles, making the most of them with his mellifluous tones and commitment to his part in the action, sometimes as moderator between the mild spats between Melba and Butt, and occasionally joining them in song to make the duo into a trio.

There is an enormous amount of music in the show, putting great demands on Stevenson and Wakefield as singers. While they rise to the challenge, I would have liked less music and many more stories. The anecdotes the two Dames tell are absolutely fascinating, and I wanted to hear more about their lives, rather than hear so many arias and duets that are well known to most lovers of music.

Hats off to both ladies for their marvellous articulation and diction – I heard every word, and that s something I rarely say, especially in totally acoustic shows like this. Musical director Tully Henchel provided fine support at the piano, and Heather and Keith Peake’s costumes had both ladies truly resembling their alter egos, and were a pleasure to look at.

This is a fun show and perfectly suited to historic settings, so keep your eyes on local historic properties where it may pop up again!