I love a one-hour show. Well, to be a nerd about it, 55 minutes. And self-confessed ladynerd Keira Daley packs a lot into every one of those 55 minutes. If anything, it’s overwritten (by Daley). But, boy, is it well-written?! That’s a resounding ‘yes!’ All-singing, all-dancing Daley has done her homework. Which is nothing less than you’d expect from a supernerd. She’s found solace in the company of other ladynerds, down through the ages.
Take Polish-born (Sklodowska was her maiden name) Marie Curie, for example; a radium example of a nerd, if ever there was one. Curie risked life and limb to enquire into radioactivity. She even wore glowing objects as jewellery, apparently as cluelessly as Homer might. And not only did she smash through the glass ceiling in a man’s world, she was the first person, let alone woman, to garner two Nobels. What a nerd! And it’s here we see the term nerd emerging as a badge of honour, rather than cone of shame. And in Curie’s honour, The Lady Is a Nerd (Tramp), arranged, like the rest of the material, by Daley and on-it musical director, Mark Chamberlain.
Daley also muses and meditates on the courtship between Marie and Pierre Curie, steaming it up with saucy euphemisms and metaphors drawn from the periodic table of the elements; as you do. This provides the excuse for a rendition of Tobias-Brown-Stept’s Comes Love, released just a year after Rodgers & Hart’s aforementioned Babes In Arms hit, by Artie Shaw, sung by Helen Forrest. The only problem is the emphasis on comedy tends to take away from the poignancy of the song, encapsulated in the immortal line, “comes love, nothing can be done”. Methinks it could easily have been written by Gershwin, for Porgy and Bess, such is the melancholy aesthetic.
Of course, Curie was by no means the be-all-and-end-all of ladynerds. A more contemporary example is Bette Nesmith Graham, a hard-nosed, determined divorcee, who invented liquid paper and made a fortune, even if she didn’t live anywhere long enough to enjoy it: she was dead by 56. She was, just as famously, the mother of Monkee Mike Nesmith, who adapted a jingle penned for a prototype (no pun intended) of his mother’s ubiquitous product to be one of his group’s biggest hits. But that’s another story. Daley pays tribute to Graham’s brashness with One Of The Boys, Katy Perry’s defiant song, a veritable anthem for female pride and independence. Well-chosen.
There’s a mock movie trailer for Florence Nightingale, before Daley introduces a rave about computers by way of Jonathan Coulton’s tricky A Laptop Like You, featuring some deviously interpolated videogame theme stings from Chamberlain. Her subject here is Ada Lovelace or, to giver her full due, Ada Augusta King, Countess of Lovelace, estranged daughter of Lord Byron who, amidst her madness, devised the world’s first computer program; this, in the early-to-mid 19th-century, a good while before IBM, Microsoft, or Apple; ‘though it’s possible the Commodore 64 was around. What Will You Say, Nightingale?, a clever medley of Jeff Buckley and Norah Jones songs.
A nostalgic video sequence from Sesame Street brought us, somehow, to Hedy Lamarr, the beautiful and shrewd Austrian-American actress from Hollywood’s golden years, who co-invented frequency hopping, still a vital precursor to wireless communications. Extraordinary, but true. She was a collector of husbands, too, and, thus, perhaps, like her compatriot across the border, my father’s babysitter, Zsa Zsa, a collector of houses. Kevin Devine’s Easy Mark was the musical matchup: “I asked for the future; she only gave me a song.” Perhaps that’s how her serial monogamists felt.
Even ladynerds, like ladybirds, have to fly, so Daley wrapped it up (save for a reprise of The Lady Is A Nerd with Got To Fly, Marian Call’s introspective ode to ‘squaritude’. It was an ideal selection.
It wasn’t the best I’ve ever heard Daley sing (she was outstanding, as Susan, in Title Of Show, not so very long ago), but part of that problem was, most likely, down to first night nerves, not to mention the breathless script. Had she slowed down just a little, it would’ve better fit the cabaret cadence and still impressed with rapier wit. Breathe, Keira, breathe! That said, there were moments that were salutary. As much as anything, Daley shows herself to be as exceptional a writer as performer. And we can always use more of both. Mark Chamberlain’s a whizzkid, to boot. But director, Jay James-Moody needs to get her to slow down a bit. After all, would it be so terrible if the show ran just over a symmetrical hour? If you’re a nerd, better not answer that.
The details: LadyNerd plays the Seymour Sound Lounge as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival until October 1. Tickets on the festival website.