Bernadette’s Bravo! is a musical story about five middle-aged girlfriends who decide to enter a writing contest called “Bernadette’s Bravo,” in which each woman must think of a particularly meaningful story from her lifetime of experiences and then create a “bravo” (a phrase of seven words or less) that best explains what this story or what life has taught her.
The winners of the contest have their “bravo” printed and displayed on billboards in New York City. This musical has a wonderful theme of women’s empowerment and the cast members play themselves as they share their own personal stories. For those reasons, I really wanted to love this show, but unfortunately, though I often found the stories moving, the dialogue and acting seemed forced and over done. The musical’s four songs also disappointed with uninteresting lyrics and a general dreary delivery.
The show opens at the house of Dana (Dana Whiting), who is hosting a meeting of the “Dream Big Club.” The club is made up of five friends: Dana, Rose (Rose Bilal), Linda (Linda Blume), “JC” (Janice Creneti) and Janice (Janice Nepon-Sixt). The women all have experienced some trauma that has negatively affected their lives and continues to haunt them. During the course of the show, each woman tells her personal story to the audience as a spoken monologue: Dana, a mom of two young boys, questions whether she is a good mother after her pediatrician gives her a pamphlet about discipline techniques; Janice’s beloved mother dies sending her into a seemingly never-ending spiral of grief; JC is cursed with always having to tell the truth, even if no one wants to hear it; Rose was sexually molested as a young child by almost all the men in her life including her father and minister and as a young adult served two years in prison after getting involved with a bad group of people; and Linda, after years of low self-esteem and questioning her own intelligence, discovers that she has a learning disability, dyslexia, which explains why she always had trouble in school. As the women participate in the Bravo contest and reflect upon their lives, they discover new truths about themselves, which ultimately gives them comfort and brings them closer as friends.
I found many of the women’s individual stories to be compelling and moving; however, the delivery of the dialogue often felt unnatural and sometimes downright bizarre. When Rose tells her friends about being sexually molested as a child, she speaks the words while smiling the entire time. I was unsettled by this action as well as the fairly dull reactions of her friends to her admission. Learning of a friend’s tragic and painful story of molestation should cause an emotional reaction of some sort in any listener. In another awkward moment, Linda, during her monologue, laments about the physical effects of aging while gazing into a mirror and pantomiming getting a boob job by awkwardly holding her arms over her head. I was not clear if she was trying her hand at physical comedy but the whole mirror scene felt uncomfortable and forced.
The most tragic aspect of this musical was the music itself. The cast members, except for Rose, are not blessed with brilliant voices or particularly interesting songs to sing. The show’s four songs were sung as group numbers in which the women stood facing the audience and stiffly delivered the uninspiring songs with little harmonization. Strangely, we learn close to the end of the show that Rose is an accomplished jazz singer with impressive vocal chops (she dazzles the audience with a quick one-line belt of “It’s Almost Like Being in Love.”) It’s a crime that this musical fails to capitalize on the vocal talent available in its own cast.
Although I did not particularly enjoy this show, I recognize the importance of the message and I support the intent of author, Fran Powers, to empower women by staging their true stories. I only wish the music was more interesting and that the cast could deliver a more natural and engaging performance.
Written and directed by Fran Powers
Music and lyrics by Janet Scaglione
Presented by Powerstories Theater
Reviewed by Sabrina C. Daly
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?