Marina Prior – Leading Lady

Riverside Theatre, August 31Marina Prior res

Charisma and a warm heart count for much. Given that Marina Prior can add a laudable voice, acting skills and good looks to the list it is little wonder that she sold out this show and has been such a force in Australian musical theatre – the link in the chain between Nancye Hayes and Lucy Durack.

No one can choose when they were born, and Prior bounced into stardom in the era of Les Mis and the many Lloyd Webber flummeries; the era of overwrought banality that followed the frequent brilliance of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Kander and Ebb and Sondheim.

Consequently she was ensnared by The Big Ballad, a frightful development that has plagued musical theatre ever since. Inevitably we were clobbered with our share of them: Memory, I Dreamed A Dream and The Music Of The Night. The almost inevitable consequence of years of singing these aural wedding-cake decorations was that when Prior turned to Scarborough Fair or Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now (from her busking days) they were infected with Big Balladness. This disease sees vocal histrionics eat away all truth, charm and understatement. It even weighed down Someone To Watch Over Me.

She was infinitely more convincing being playful with I Love A Piano, Adelaide’s Lament and S’Wonderful. Just as successful was a pretty, delicate reading of Before I Gaze At You Again (from Camelot) which followed a funny story about working with Richard Harris. Revisiting her Mary O’Hara role in Harp On The Willow Prior offered a gripping rendition of She Moved Through The Fair.

Her accompanist of 23 years, David Cameron, was superb, perfectly catching her phrasing in rubato passages. Perhaps he may have a quiet word with her about wavering pitch on several long notes.

Someone also deserves a slapped wrist over the lighting, which had Prior often moving between pools of murk rather than illumination. Either she was missing her marks or the lighting plot or operating was faulty.