The Piano Diaries
Joanna Weinberg engaged the audience from the first moment she strode out onto the stage wearing glam red sparkles in this one-woman cabaret, which was driven by lively music and memories revived by a grandmother’s piano. At first the stories come from the exotic, earlier part of the performer's life. The daughter of two penniless career musicians, she spent her childhood playing under her grandmother’s piano. As a ten-year old, she moved to South Africa, by eleven she had witnessed a murder, by thirteen she stowed away with a rockstar, and in her late teens she joined the Johannesburg cabaret. All this she weaves into song.
However, Weinberg’s claim to fame came when she starred as Desdemona against the first black man to play Othello in that country, John Kani. Not only did they share a stage, they kissed sensuously, her nuzzling into his bared shoulder. It was pretty damn radical for Apartheid era Johannesburg, and lead to a television and film career in South Africa.
She gave all this up when she moved to Australia in the 1990s to give her family a better life, which leads to the second theme of the show. While at pains to explain that she doesn’t regret having moved, Weinberg has struggled to gain acceptance as a writer and performer in Australia, a predicament she writes about with irony and wistfulness.
The music has elements of jazz, pop, English folk, and Cuban-influenced rhythms, but predominantly this is cabaret. The lyrics are witty, well-crafted and scan beautifully, suggesting a rhythm of their own. There were plenty of laughs as well, not the least a song about the philosophy of Weinberg’s Jewish grandmother to food. As well as a talented singer and songwriter, the lady is a competent pianist, given that she’d only two years ago taken piano lessons again after a 30-year hiatus. Although she had been abandoned by her 8-piece backup band (who apparently refused to play in the bogan scrub of South Tuggeranong), and this audience was a bit sparcer, older and grumpier than the night before, she held them enthralled. It was a delightful way to warm a cold Canberra evening.