As gardenias are now flowering in Brisbane gardens, Mama Alto’s celebration of Billie Holiday, the ‘lady of the gardenias,’ is timely. It’s also a great way to spend an hour; a ‘Diva Show’ that should be on everyone’s list when planning a visit to the 2018 Wonderland Festival. A great selection of songs, with a  number of well-chosen anecdotes and commentary on the life and loves of Billie Holiday, interwoven with the reflections of an artist “of colour.” Oh, and some fabulous sequins, and a supporting musical director (Miss Chief) who enjoys playing the blues.

Mama Alto’s Lady Sings the Blues is everything you might expect from a cabaret show: an audience seated around small tables, in close proximity to the performer. As Mama Alto observed, many members of the audience might have been attracted to the show as a chance to hear a live performance of Billie Holiday’s life and music. Having attended this very intimate soiree, I’m certain that next time this same audience would plan to attend any show which features Mama Alto—in whichever incarnation the Diva chooses to showcase.

Picture : A view from the audience of Mama Alto, in  Lady Sings The Blues . Picture Credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Picture: A view from the audience of Mama Alto, in Lady Sings The Blues. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

All of the songs were perfectly suited to Mama Alto’s countertenor voice.  Some were new to me, but each showcased different aspects of Holiday’s life (the ups and downs). Highlights of course included the fantastic opening Lady Sings the Blues, and the scat/piano duet and vocal range on display in The Blues Are Brewin.' But Fine and Mellow was also a deserved crowd-pleaser, and the murmurings during the poignant I cover the waterfront reflected the appreciation of the enthralled audience.

Yes, the lighting changes were not always too subtle, and it’s probably best when it runs for a full 2-hours (rather than the 60-minute selection). All too quickly, we were demanding our encore and the evening was over. Or rather, we were off to our next show that’s part of the Wonderland ‘chocolate box’…and wondering when we’d next be able to see the fabulous Mama Alto.

Verdict: An enchanting, enthralling, enjoyable and entertaining 60 minutes. A wise investment of $20 (& booking fee).

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio (light smoke/haze effects, and drinks purchased at the bar can be taken into the show). There are only three performances of Lady Sings the Blues in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (22-24 November, 2018), and it appears that the Friday night show is already sold out. Tickets may still be available for the 24th November show (7:30pm) $20 ($15 concession) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 22nd November 2018 performance (7:30pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.