Tauranga Arts Festival Artistic Director Shane Bosher discusses DIVAS with Australian theatre legend Bernadette Robinson.

Bernadette Robinson is bringing her remarkable talent to the Auckland stage this October for a limited concert series. In DIVAS, which is directed by the multi-award-winner Simon Phillips (Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, The Musical), Bernadette will take the audience on a musical journey through the repertoire of ten of our greatest popular music DIVAS including Edith Piaf, Amy Winehouse, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Maria Callas, Kate Bush, Dolly Parton, Karen Carpenter, Miley Cyrus and Judy Garland.

Apparently, you started singing before you could talk. How did you discover this unique talent? What has the journey been to here?


Bernadette: Yes, my parents claimed I was humming before I could speak! I sang along with all our records and was told I actually sounded like the singers I sang with. From as early on as listening to Mary Poppins and capturing something of Julie Andrews – Since then I’ve cultivated that skill and actually worked at capturing something of the voices I loved to listen to.

You’ve had great success in the past with Songs for Nobodies and Pennsylvania Avenue. In those, you gave audiences evocations of Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, and Billie Holiday. What is different about this new show?

Bernadette: Both of those shows were one-woman plays that were specially written for me, where I played multiple characters. The five great singers you mentioned were featured in Songs For Nobodies along with the five “Nobodies” whom I also portrayed. There were many other singers in Pennsylvania Avenue. But both were plays where the text was the main focus. With my new show, DIVAS, the focus is on the singers and their songs.

DIVAS looks like a feat of endurance – where you’re taking on Dolly Parton, Amy Winehouse, Kate Bush, and Miley Cyrus – running the full gamut of vocal technique and taking on 10 of the best singers of all time. What keeps you returning to this genre of performance?

Bernadette: it’s something I enjoy doing and I am challenged by. I love so many different female voices, so I want to extend what I do and keep learning and pushing myself.

As a celebrated artist who channels and uses mimicry, we hear you do a mean Emma Thompson. Who are some of the other non-singing icons that you rock out to entertain people?

Bernadette: I would never call it “mimicry”. I would call it evoking a certain element or quality that is particular to that specific voice. I’m slowly developing spoken voices but I prefer to sing. I’ve never set out to sound like Emma Thomson. I was thrilled of course when she came to see Songs For Nobodies and took me out to supper! Of course I was! But that was because I admire her so much as an actor, writer and director. Although I must say that one of the characters in Songs For Nobodies, a librarian called Edie, did sound a bit like Emma!

What is a diva to you?

Bernadette: An extraordinary female singer, a standout, a unique and exceptional female voice and artist.

Are you a diva?

Bernadette: I share some of those elements! I have a unique quality but I don’t share their success!

How do you approach mastering each artist you channel?

Bernadette: I listen, listen and listen! Then I go away and let their voices sink into me. Then I listen some more!

Whose voice is the trickiest to channel and what makes it so difficult?

Bernadette: In this group of the chosen ten for DIVAS, probably Karen Carpenter. She has a very low voice and great breath control.

A lot of the people you are portraying led complicated lives. Do you think tragedy is vital to being a true diva?

Bernadette: No I don’t! Dolly is a true diva as is Barbra Streisand. Being brilliant and industrious seems more vital and integral to being a diva.

You’ve had a long working relationship with director Simon Phillips. What is it about the collaboration that keeps you returning for more?

Bernadette: Simon brings out the best in me. He always pushes me and challenges me but he does it in a fun way. He creates a safe space to work in and so I feel more inclined to take risks and be brave. He’s also brilliant! Full of wonderful ideas. He’s dynamic and I know I’m in the best of hands with him and that we will create the best possible work! That’s why we Australians like to claim him as one of ours!

DIVAS will open at the ASB Waterfront Theatre on Wednesday 11 until Sunday 22 October. Tickets from