RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women Uses Top 40 Songs From the Past to Document

The Courier Mail – 2007
Reviewed by Olivia Stewart

OPENING NIGHT – RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women
Australian premiere season, Twelfth Night Theatre

A SHOW with a specifically feminine theme runs the risk of capturing one half of the audience and alienating the other.

However, depending on the handling of the material, the case can be quite the opposite, as demonstrated by the plethora of partners who were able to safely laugh at the hazards of menopause in the titular musical last year.

After that record-breaking run, its producers are hoping for similar appeal with a production that’s been cheekily dubbed by an American reviewer “pre-Menopause the musical”.

RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women uses Top 40 songs from the past century to document women’s social evolution, vibrantly personalizing what might otherwise be to some an unappealing history lesson.

The changing and conflicting status of women through the decades—their ambivalence towards dependence and independence—is echoed through themes and lyrics: She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage, Someone to Watch Over Me, Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, Lollipop, Stand by Your Man, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and more versus anthemic statements of autonomy such as You Don’t Own Me, These Boots are Made for Walking, I am Woman and I Will Survive.

Then, of course, there is what for contemporary feminism remains the ultimate statement: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Here we have a classic play-within-a-play scenario: an older, cynical ex-Broadway star is in Australia auditioning three young hopefuls for a musical called Dorothy’s Story. The process is transformative for all of them—the tough Dodi Calquhoun gradually sheds her armour to play the role she would have liked someone to do for her, taking the nervous fledglings under her wing and empowering them to fly.

Under the guidance of the former Melbourne Theatre Company artistic director Roger Hodgman, the relationships between the women are beautifully realized; their rapport and affection is joyously obvious.

Rhonda Burchmore starts off channelling Tallulah Bankhead, then Cher, and finally morphs into Wonder Woman. The six-foot redhead is a consummate performer, and those long, long legs doing their walking in red thigh-high boots are unforgettable.

The three young performers—Lucy Durack, Belinda Wollaston and Elenoa Rokobaro—have contrasting yet complementary looks and qualities, and all shine with gorgeous voices.

Judging by their reaction spontaneously singing and clapping along at different times, the audience were more than happy with that.

Copyright 2007 – The Courier Mail