Performance review: Broadway Diva, Holden Street Theatres, Adelaide Fringe

A heart-warming celebration of the songs and arias we all know and love.

One of the delights of a fringe festival is seeing unusual acts you normally wouldn’t encounter, or usual acts in unusual locations. Broadway Diva is a delightful example of the latter, a charming chanteuse performing a solo show in a fairy-lit secret garden.

Patrons are escorted down some steep old stone steps to the garden below. With simple staging, just the illuminated letters B and D (for Broadway Diva, not to be confused with anything else…) and a keyboard for accompaniment, singer Olivia Ruggiero fills the space with her powerful vocals and warm personality.

The song list is an engaging collection of show tunes interspersed with a couple of wonderful operatic arias. While the show tunes are Ruggiero’s staple fare, as she graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium with a Bachelor of Musical Theatre in 2017, it’s the well-chosen operatic works that really demonstrate her impressive range and vocal agility.

Many of your most loved musicals are included here, some with full numbers and some mashed-up into clever medleys where both singer and Adelaide musician Thomas Saunders, on keys, switch from one tune to the next with speed and clarity. From Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music to Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Misérables, they’re all here. There’s even Somewhere Over the Rainbow and, yes, Ruggiero is wearing Judy Garland’s magical ruby red slippers. The show is indeed, as Ruggiero says in her introduction, a celebration of ‘earworms – those songs that stay with you long after you have heard them on stage’.

Showing her musical theatre prowess, Ruggiero adopted a convincing Cockney accent for ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly’ from My Fair Lady. She was also excellent in the comedic ‘Girl in 14G’, the song made famous by Kristin Chenoweth back in 2001. 

The show includes a heartfelt tribute to Ruggiero’s nana who introduced her to the delights of musical theatre when she was just a youngster. These personal insights give the show its soul and make it more than just a songbook. I would happily listen to more of her anecdotes and reminiscences. 

For this reviewer, the real highlights are the arias. Puccini’sO Mio Babbino Caro’ may be the shortest aria in the operatic canon, at just a minute and a half, but it offers a beautiful display of Ruggiero’s warm, rich tones. Bellini’s soulful soprano aria, the prayer ‘Casta Diva’ from the opera Norma, also showcases her operatic skills. 

Broadway Diva was co-created and directed by Carly Fisher, founder of Theatre Travels. Fisher and Ruggiero also worked together on last year’s award-winning show Puppet, which toured Sydney and Melbourne, and went on to the Edinburgh Fringe. 

Read: Theatre review: CAMP, Sydney WorldPride

‘We created Broadway Diva to bring to the Fringe as a way to go back to our roots and celebrate the thing that makes us both the happiest – musical theatre. This show is, in many ways, an ode to the incredible musicians, lyricists, composers and songwriters that have made an indelible mark on our careers and lives. It is also our own special thank you to the people in our lives who introduced us to shows, fostered our passion and continue to support our dreams – our families,’ says Fisher.

Broadway Diva is a delightful way to spend an hour in a secret garden. 

Broadway Diva
The Barbara Hardy Garden at Holden Street Theatres, Hindmarsh, Adelaide

Tickets: from $30

Broadway Diva will be performing until 25 March 2023.

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.