A couple years ago, Sydney-based Miriam Waks packed her backback and spent a year and a half travelling through ten countries. Her new show, Songs from the Open Road, offers tales of her adventures and the songs that punctuated her journey.
First, Waks deserves great credit for giving a professional performance despite disruptions and background noise. It is unfortunate that in quite a small room some audience members lacked punctuality or behaved more like they were at the front of the cafe than at a performance. Despite this, Waks never lost her composure in bantering with (and literally sidestepping) the punters. As the same for Joe Roberto, who provided accompaniment on keyboard and piano-accordion, with some lively touches.
Early on, Waks told us that she can sing in 14 languages, however until recently only spoke English. She has since learned enough Spanish to survive in South America. This difference between a working and a superficial knowledge is an important one in this show as it appears to have determined the degree of influence of the various countries on her interests. While Waks appears quite comfortable performing a novelty song from France, or recalling her Chinese karaoke pop performance, the accompanying stories were often merely asides as far as travel stories go. We often weren’t given information about the songs, and I felt that the numbers could be performed in any order, such was the disconnectedness of the story. Maybe the outside eye of a director would help.
When the show could look like a collection of side trips, with little reflection on her own deeper story, Waks’s true passion emerges, as she returns to Argentina and discusses musical styles with locals and is charged with her “mission” of performing tango in Australia. This leg has the strongest story of the piece, and she achieved her mission to tango.