It was on a rainy night in St Kilda that Prinnie Stevens took to the stage for the 2023 Melbourne Cabaret Festival. It was the first time the Festival had been held since COVID and Stevens was a headline act with her show Lady Sings The Blues.
From the start it was clear Stevens has an impeccable technical foundation and an entertaining willingness to play around with her voice through songs. She switched between dense huskiness and crystal-like runs often and with a sense of playfulness.
At first this playfulness did not extend into her storytelling or audience interaction but, at last, when Etta James’ song of the same name began, the production came alive. Stevens showed her capacity to charm the audience and capture their attention with but one sustained note or dramatic pause.
In this sense, Lady Sings The Blues is very much a work about the songs and musicality rather than storytelling. Stevens left a lot to be inferred about what she wanted to say. Is the show about her life journey, is it about the pain women of colour experience due to discrimination or is it about the lives and impact of famous blues singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday? Everything was touched on but nothing explored. Stevens’ interludes often came across as a presentation.
The moments when Stevens connected with her own story were endearing. However, it seemed there was much more underneath the surface that needed to be explored and exposed to give the work an emotional oomph. This would be no mean feat given that Stevens implied such a story would demand sharing painful memories and experiences. But with the show’s emphasis on how iconic women’s pain enabled them to create and perform timeless classics, it’s perhaps not a topic to shy away from.
Lady Sings The Blues was a show for lovers of the genre and musical talent in general. If it makes a return at the next Melbourne Cabaret Festival, prepare to sit back and enjoy Stevens’ dulcet tones flowing over you.
Prinnie Stevens: Lady Sings The Blues
MEMO Music Hall, Melbourne
Lady Sings The Blues was performed 8-9 July 2023.