Strange Fruit

Nerida Dickinson

HIS MAJESTY’S THEATRE: Entertaining and moving, Analisa Bell pays loving and respectful tribute to the life and music of the legendary Lady Day.
Strange Fruit
Entertaining and moving, Analisa Bell pays loving and respectful tribute to the life and music of the legendary Lady Day in Strange Fruit.

In a carefully selected, ordered and arranged set, Analisa Bell sparkled with charm in her period-inspired costumes. She maintained a friendly rapport with the audience, sharing the personal inspiration she drew from Billie Holiday as well as informative biographical anecdotes delivered in an accessible manner, which effectively set the context of songs within Holiday’s career. Bell did extremely well to keep things upbeat, considering the series of tragic circumstances that shaped Lady Day’s life.

Bell’s vocal stylings were no slavish mimicry of Holiday, but neither did they deviate too far from well-known arrangements for mere shock or novelty value. Combining high levels of vocal control with her own natural gifts she produced captivating vocals and an impressive, sustained delivery. She channelled the spirit of the subject, showing an exquisite sensibility in delivery – as with her rendition of ‘I Cover the Waterfront’. ‘Summertime’ saw a vocal jump to the classic Holiday drawl and growling kick, and also treated us to an entrancing piano solo. A neat segue into ‘The Man I Love’ and a return to Bell’s own tones closed the first set with a joyful ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’.

The second half was more challenging for the performer, but was still a treat for the audience. ‘Strange Fruit’ itself was always going to be a daunting song to perform. Bell did so with gravitas and dignity, giving an anguished rendition of a powerful and poignant tune. Following with ‘Gloomy Sunday’ could well have killed the show dead, but Bell made it her own while conveying the pearl of despair at the heart of the piece.

While she can carry off the solemnity of these blues classics, the delight of seeing Bell on stage was the way her face lit up while singing and her irrepressible joy in performance.

While sound balance can be an issue at this venue, careful mixing saw a deft balance achieved between the instruments and Bell’s clarion clear voice. Tim Cunniffe’s thoughtful arrangements saw the musicians step up in solo breaks, both in volume and virtuosity. As delicious complements to the lyrics, the instrumental solos were not too jazzily self-indulgent but were entertaining and of a ‘polite’ length while also allowing each player the freedom to cut loose and impress. These breaks highlighted the easy interaction between the singer and band.

A particularly noteworthy moment was the sumptuous piano solo in ‘Solitude’, Cunniffe wearing his heart on his sleeve and his skill in his fingertips, beautifully augmenting a gorgeous song.

A full tribute, Strange Fruit delivered reverent and regret-filled tales from Holiday’s life as well as songs performed passionately and with respect for her legacy.

Rating: Four stars

Strange Fruit
Comedy and Cabaret Festival
Created and performed by Analisa Bell
Musical Director / Arranger / Pianist: Tim Cunniffe
Tenor Saxophone: Daniel Connor
Double Bass: Manoli Vouyoucalos

Downstairs at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
September 14 – 17

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.