Unseen: A Tribute to Marni Nixon
Queensland Cabaret Festival & Your Theatrics International
Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Platform
Saturday June 14 2014
Reviewed by Meredith Walker
Anyone who has seen the classic 1952 movie Singing in the Rain understands the role of a ghost singer in Hollywood. In it, Jean Hagen’s character, the silent film star, Lena LaMont, has a cringe-worthy voice that limits her transition to talkies, so Debbie Reynolds’ character, Kathy Seldon, is offered the job of providing LaMont’s voice. How deliciously ironic it is, therefore, that Reynolds’ voice was also dubbed for the pivotal, operetta-like song, Would You. This is just one of many fascinating anecdotes shared by Melody Beck in her self-devised biopic cabaret show Unseen: A Tribute to Marni Nixon (the ghost singer lauded by Time Magazine as ‘The Ghostess with the Mostest’).
It is soon apparent that although you might not know Nixon by name, you will surely be familiar with her voice, given that she provided the (uncredited) vocals for some of Hollywood’s most renowned leading ladies – Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady to name just a few. She even dubbed the high notes for Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
With such a pedigree, it’s easy to succumb to the nostalgic celebration of the show’s soundtrack alone as Beck shares snippets of a story spanning many years.
Beck is a passionate performer; winner of the 2014 Your Theatrics International Cabaret Contest and Unseen is an excellent vehicle to showcase her versatility.
Not only does she inhabit a range of characters as part of its narrative, her singing, like Nixon’s, shows a skilled adaption of the personality, the timbre, and inflections of her voice to the range of characters she is portraying, from a cooing Monroe to a cockney Hepburn. Beck’s powerful voice fills the Turbine Platform space as she shares the soundtrack of this important and resonate tale. And although there are a number of hesitant moments in dialogue delivery, this is a nuanced performance, guaranteed to delight any musical fan.
Ghost singing for vocally challenged stars has been around almost as long as talking pictures. Thankfully, those who were once ghosts are now credited and due to Hollywood engineering wizardry, the notes of less desirable stars are now easily sweetened. But does it really matter anyway? For it isn’t a face or name that creates joy, but what is created. And in this case, what has been created is an engaging, enjoyable musical journey with the voice of Hollywood.