As the possibility of theatre re-openings peaks its head over the horizon, Red Line Productions have filled the Old Fitz audience with cameras for live (streamed) theatre again! The first production in this new socially distanced format is a concert from Elenoa Rokobaro featuring Paulini Curuenavuli and Nana Matapule. For an hour Rokobaro takes the audience through some soul and R&B greats with a splash of pop as she returns to her cabaret repertoire.
After a heartbeat countdown to the beginning of the live stream, Rokobaro’s opening number “At Last” by Etta James felt like a welcome relief, the return of live performance! As audience members found their way to the page, Rokobaro’s singing eased people in with the support from Andrew Worboys on piano. Rokobaro framed the concert around this first number which she remembers singing in the early years of her career when she was just 16. Over the course of the program, Rokobaro picks songs from throughout her career that depict the pivotal relationships in one’s life, including the one you have with yourself.
“Video” by India Arie in particular showed off a soulful self-love, with great support from Curuenavali and Matapule, which was then continued with “Me, Myself & I” by Beyonce later on. Rokobaro referenced her childhood idolisation of Beyonce as highly influential to her love of music, citing “Wishing On a Star” as a reminder to keep dreaming into adulthood.
The smooth soul of Etta James and Jill Scott were accompanied by a few pop numbers including the dance floor favourite “Rock with You” by Michael Jackson and “Crazy” from Gnarles Barkley. A stand-out performance came in Rokobaro’s mash-up of Beyonce’s “Beautiful Ones” with “Sex in on Fire” by Kings of Leon which proved to be a fiery combination. Then “Just Had to Hear Your Voice” by Oleta Adams solidified the intimate, jazz club aesthetic of the performance to great effect. This song in particular demonstrated the deep and emotive tone of Rokobaro’s voice.
But Rokobaro has great range as a singer as seen in a group performance of “Have You Ever” by Brandy with Matapule and Curuenavali which had a playful arrangement and high energy dynamic between the singers. The whole band should be commended for maintaining a high energy without a live audience in the room. But there was certainly some serious foot-tapping on this side of the screen to compliment their applause!
Rokobaro chose a powerful pairing of songs to close out the concert and acknowledge the current climate of protest and resistance. “I’m Here” from the musical the Colour Purple, music written by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, followed by “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, written half a century ago in response to police brutality towards Black people, was an admirable acknowledgement at the same time as it illuminates how little things have changed.
In true cabaret style, At Last is a concert with a little bit of all the good stuff and a welcome reminder of the thrill of a live performance.
At Last: Elenoa Rokobaro Live in Concert is streaming on June 24th at 7:30pm AEST. For more information and to purchase a ticket as a donation, please visit Red Line Productions’s website.
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