Review by Barb Popel
60 minutes |Cabaret, Musical | PG
Do you have to knit to enjoy this show? No, but if you are a knitter, sit in the front rows and feel free to bring your knitting. I brought my friend Laurie, who is an expert knitter and (almost) never withouther knitting kit. She really enjoyed herself and bought the “Knitting All the Day” CD afterwards. I haven’t knitted since I was a teenager, a very long time ago, but I thoroughly enjoyed Melanie Gall’s singing and her rapport with the audience.
Melanie Gall has a lovely lyric coloratura soprano voice, exquisite diction (the songs are often tongue-twisters), and a warm stage presence. She has extensive voice training and varied experiences singing classical works, primarily opera, as well as 20th century popular music. And it shows. Although opening night was the first time she’d ever performed this play and there were a few missed cues, she kept her head and carried on, singing beautifully.
The songs are the genuine article – songs about knitting and keeping the home fires burning for “the boys” fighting overseas during World War II. Knitting socks and mittens for the troops as an integral part of the war effort may sounds corny now, but it was part of the American culture back then. The only song I recognized was the exquisite We’ll Meet Again. Gall channels Vera Lynn very effectively; she brought a lump to my throat when she sang.
The story is a slight one with a predictable arc, but it’s a good frame for the songs Gall performs. This is, after all, a musical, not heavy drama. Young Sadie, whose Jewish parents immigrated from Poland after World War I and who grew up on New York’s Lower East Side in a 1-room tenement flat, dreams of being a popular singer. By chance, she lands a plum job as the star of her own radio show, Nellie the Knitter, during WWII. Except she hates knitting. We follow her as she joins a knitting circle and the war continues. She gets letters from fans. One of them is from Freddie, a soldier fighting overseas…
I’d mentioned that this is the first time she’s performed thisplay. It needs some polishing, particularly with respect to her costumes. Her first costume looks right for Sadie from the Lower East Side. But her second and third costumes aren’t appropriate for the era. Moreover, it takes too long for her to change into them off-stage, requiring uncomfortably long blackouts. Maybe hire a costume designer? and perhaps a dresser? And since this play is ostensibly about knitting, include a few more knitted garments.
But these are relatively minor quibbles. Really good singers are rare at the Fringe. Melanie Gall is a really good singer and she connects with her audience. Charming.
More Power to Your Knitting, Nell! by Melanie Gall is playing at Arts Court Theatre (2nd floor, Arts Court) on Thursday June 14 at 8:00 pm; Sunday June 17 at 2:00 pm; Monday June 18 at 5:00 pm; Tuesday June 19at 11:00 pm; Friday June 22 at 8:30 pm: Saturday June 23 at 2:00 pm.