Broadway Diva at The Butterfly Club – reviewed by Alex First

June 15, 2023 by Alex First
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Olivia Ruggiero is talented. No doubt about it.

She is operatic and she is adept at musical theatre, but at times there is a struggle between the two.

Olivia Ruggiero is the Broadway Diva
Photo by Carly Fisher

I noted that very early on in Broadway Diva, when she sang a medley of show tunes.

The operatic tended to overwhelm what I would call traditional musical theatre and it didn’t sit comfortably with me.

I might say this isn’t the first time I have spoken similarly about a performer.

And I say so as someone who has seen almost all musical theatre on the Melbourne stage for more than 30 years and Opera Australia’s finest works.

Later in the show, when she sang a magnificent and dramatic Puccini aria, Ruggiero was in her element.

Another highlight came a little earlier, with her beautiful rendition of I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar.

In other words, clearly she is comfortable in both mediums, but I still say laying one over the other doesn’t work.

Ruggiero enunciates wonderfully. Most of the time, she keeps perfect pitch, but on occasion, the higher notes are a little shrieky.

Accompanied by pianist Mark Bradley, she trots out tunes or parts of numbers from The Wizard of Oz, The King and I, Carousel and The Sound of Music.

West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady and Show Boat are also represented.

And that is not to forget Cabaret, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera or Come From Away.

Ruggiero has mixed her personal favourites with eagworms.

I would have liked a few more showstoppers, namely the best-known melodies from popular musicals.

And, I would have appreciated more material from contemporary musicals.

In between numbers, Ruggiero talks to us about the rigours of auditioning. There’s even a delightful tune from Tootsie to go along with her angst.

She also outlines the influence that her grandmother was on her.

Nana took Ruggiero to her first musical, The Wizard of Oz, and her love of the art form grew from there.

She is warm and personable, charming and funny on stage.

She injects emotion into her songs, although at times the authenticity gives way to excessive melodrama.

Broadway Diva is a 50-minute walk down memory lane.

What I would say to Ruggiero is stick to musical theatre representations of songs sung in musical theatre productions and, in that context, lose the operatic flourishes.

Then, by all means, if you would care to, sing a limited few straight operatic pieces to showcase your dual skill set.

I believe the offering would benefit accordingly.

Directed and co-created with Ruggiero by Carly Fisher, Broadway Diva is on at The Butterfly Club until 17th June, 2023.

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