Sultry songs, tragic lives
28 April 2005
A sci-fi legend has turned her energies to the songs of a bygone era, writes Jill Stark.
In sci-fi circles, Jane Badler is held in high esteem. Her role as an alien dominatrix in the hit American show V
saw her recently named the fifth-greatest sci-fi legend by TV Guide. But in her adopted home of Australia, she's
carving out a career as a distinctive jazz and cabaret singer.
In Shakin' the Blues Away, Badler brings to life four of America's best-loved torch singers in a stylish marriage
of monologue and song. Famed for their haunting songs about unrequited love, the New York torch singers of the 1920s and '30s
performed in dimly lit, smoky jazz clubs. They were sexy and sultry, and their music was coloured by the loss and tragedy
of their own lives.
For Badler, a native New Yorker who moved to Melbourne 15 years ago, the show is a challenge that allows her to bring a
bit of her American heritage to the Australian stage. "I think I can relate to the women of the 1920s and the glamour of New
York at that time. It was a time I feel I could have lived in or sung in," Badler says.
"I'm probably the obvious choice, being a singer, an actor and an American. These singers (from) the Midwest came to New
York, where the scene was happening in the 1920s, and I'm from New York, so it feels authentic for me to play these characters."
Badler performs as Libby Holman, Helen Morgan, Lillian Roth and Ruth Etting in an entirely acoustic show. Directed by Robert
Chuter and accompanied by renowned jazz pianist Mark Fitzgibbon, she pays tribute to their lives through their songs and biographical
It's an emotional journey for performer and audience as Badler touches on the tragedies that affected the singers. Alcoholism,
financial ruin, failed marriages and even a Mafia murder were among the misfortunes faced by the four women.
"One of the characters, her husband was found mysteriously shot and she was accused of his murder, so I intertwine that
with one of the songs," she says. "I go into characters telling stories of their lives, and the songs they sung become part
of the monologue. They all had tragic lives, and to me it's a lot more interesting to play people who have had a lot of tragedy
in their lives than it is to play someone who is pure and lives on the surface.
"In my own life I've lived many lives and had many things happen to me, so I find it easy to connect to these women. That's
the good thing about getting old - you can bring your own experience to performance. It has to be totally from your heart
and totally believable. When I'm on stage I feel like I'm channelling these women, and when it works, something comes over
me and I get very emotional."
WHERE The Butterfly Club, 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne
WHEN Friday to Sunday, then May 5 to May 8, at 8.30pm