Melbourne Cabaret Festival: Dear Blossom

From ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ to ‘Peel Me a Grape’, Fem Belling took us on a wonderful trip down memory lane, enriched by the clever lyrics and subtle presentation attributed to the delectable Blossom Dearie.

Fem Belling
Fem Belling

In Dear Blossom, Belling depicts a woman who is obsessed with Dearie and wrote her innumerable letters. I’m not so sure that it worked except as an introduction to some of the songs, but the night was all about Dearie’s songs.

Margarethe Blossom Dearie – yes, her real name – died in 2009 at the age of 82. Dearie is a celtic name, from her father, and Margarethe, a Scandinavian name, from her mother. Blossom was from her loving father, who was moved by the peach trees in blossom, in the New York Catskills, when his daughter was born. He couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate name for a woman whose soft, wispy voice has continued to float into people’s lives from generation to generation.

Dearie was an icon in America’s jazz world (even though she didn’t like to be thought of as a jazz singer) and achieved equal success in France, where she lived for five years, after her first rendition, in French, of the George Shearing standard ‘Lullaby of Birdland’.

Behind Dearie’s well-known ‘baby’ voice was a woman committed to her particular art style. She didn’t allow smoking (to protect her voice) or chatter or movement from patrons or staff in her venues. And what a blessing to be able to hear such a wonderful voice and memorable story in an intimate setting with the same atmosphere – mobiles turned off.

Having studied classical piano as a child, she regularly accompanied herself and she wrote many of her own songs, which included rambling, amusing stories about her life, like ‘I’m Hip and ‘My Gentleman Friend’. Others were written in collaboration with great songwriters such as Rogers and Hart, ‘Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You’, and Johnny Mercer, ‘I’m Shadowing You’, and she had enduring friendships with famous jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Woody Herman and Bill ‘Evans.

But Dear Blossum is really about Melbourne chanteuse Fem Belling. With vast experience in music theatre in Australia and the UK and an extraordinary vocal range, Belling was more than capable of delivering a memorable “conversation with the cult chanteuse” and, like Dearie, she appreciates the importance of hearing the words and a cheeky, poignant and clever delivery. And she gave us some bonus songs of her own, like the delicious ‘Lush Life’.

Not to forget the musicians assisting this wonderful Melbourne production, who certainly carried on the subtle background tradition ably, particularly Joe Ruberto on piano and piano accordion.

There may have been some people in the packed theatre who remembered, the childhood difficulty of choosing between multi-coloured boiled lollies in a sweet shop. As one of them, I can confirm that listening to the spot-on interpretation of Blossom Dearie was akin to having all the beloved treats at once.

And, thanks to the initiative and talent of Fem Belling, there is a devoted cult of Blossom Dearie lovers in Melbourne.

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