Tina Arena

ICC Sydney Theatre, September 23


Tina res
Photo: Matt Palmer.

Too often child stars self-destruct. Not only has Tina Arena survived, she has maintained a career at a certain pitch of success for four decades, and on her own terms. No mean feat. The voice, of course, is the reason, and it remains a potent instrument, as she hammered home with a tumultuous version of Woman.

But why hasn’t her material matured with her? Arena has the potential to reinvent herself as a musical sophisticate. Imagine her as something like an Australian Ute Lemper singing songs for grown-ups; material with interesting, nuanced music and meaningful lyrics.

Instead here she was offering a “best of” program, which in her case means a cascade of hits about love blossoming or love souring, rendered as groaning ballads or relentless dance beats. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that: she has brought much pleasure to millions of people. It’s just that the perspective on love in these lyrics is always that of a teenager: angst-ridden, simplistic and often petulant. As Arena hits 50 is it not time to let a little sophistication in the door to renovate her artistry? The alternative is to sing the same songs to the same aging audience until her voice fades. Doesn’t that voice deserve a better fate?

Even on its own terms this show was hardly exhilarating. After starting 40 minutes late the first 10 minutes were given over to a video career retrospective, in case any of us were confused about whom we had come to hear. When Arena finally appeared her voice was appropriately prominent in the mix, but alas the backing band – which at full strength was a 11-piece with strings as well as backing singers – sounded like aural sludge. It improved slightly as the long night – nearly three hours, including interval – wore on, although Adriano Verderame’s drums apart, the instruments still lacked clarity, making the overly similar songs sound all the more alike. The exception was an “unplugged” Wasn’t It Good.

No, Tina. It was no longer enough.