Send For Nellie

The opening night of ‘Send For Nellie’ is a bright and deeply captivating performance celebrating and commemorating the life of Sydney’s own cross-dressing cabaret queen, Nellie Small.

Rich with history, soul and laughter, Alana Valentine’s research into Nellie and her stage presence was well executed by performers Elenoa Rokobaro and Eleanor Stankiewicz, the incredibly talented musicians Maria Alfonsine, Camilla Bellstedt and Wollongong local Jodie Michael, and director Liesel Badorrek.

Elenoa Rokobaro brought Nellie Small to life with grace and power. Her vocals boasted of control and an enjoyment of the craft. Rokobaro captivated the audience, whether jazzy or mournful, throughout each song, and it was difficult to look away.

Her scene partner, Eleanor Stankiewicz, should be commended for her commitment to each character she transformed into. With hats and jackets as the sole means of a character change, Stankiewicz put everything into the physicality and vocal performances of the people in Nellie’s life. Right down to the way a certain character would sit or walk or even hold their hands when listening to Nellie perform, there was never any confusion as to who was on stage with Nellie at the time.

The hilarity of movement and costume choices contrasted with the authentic conversations and laws of the 1930s and 40s in Australia. Using clown noses and vaudeville choreography made those scenes and the following songs more powerful.

Clearly, each person on stage was having a good time, which encouraged the audience to be consumed by the story. The set up of cabaret tables directly in front of the stage and the performers moving through the crowd at different times allowed for an immersive experience. From the get-go of the theatre doors opening and jazz music playing softly from the speakers, it was like stepping back in time to a smoky jazz club and waiting to hear the shouts of “Send for Nellie!” in order to salvage a performance.

This performance, however, needed no salvaging. ‘Send For Nellie’ is a moving story of a cross-dressing, gender non-conforming, black Australian woman pursuing her passion in show business and is backed by more multi-talented women. ‘Send For Nellie’ is a good time from start to finish. The entire creative team should be very proud of themselves.

Tickets are available to see ‘Send for Nellie’ at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre via the link below.
Performance Times: Thu 15 Feb, 6:30pm; Fri 16 Feb, 7:30pm; Sat 17 Feb, 1:30pm &7:30pm
Where: Bruce Gordon Theatre–Illawarra Performing

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

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