Wrapping up a UK tour, this week sees Anne Reid take up a residency at the Crazy Coqs. Not just as one of the nation’s most beloved actresses, Reid’s cabaret reputation precedes her and her set that lasts the best part of two hours is a delight.
She’s played Velma Kelly in Chicago, appeared in The Producers, Kiss Me Kate and Sweet Charity amongst many other successful shows. Her cabarets have received critical acclaim – including an Also Recognised Awards nomination this year for her Desperate Divas cabaret with Anita Louise Combe – and she’s about to embark upon two more cabaret dates at the Crazy Coqs. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…. Tiffany Graves!
In a couple of weeks, I’m taking to the stage at St James Theatre with my show Twentysomething – The Quarter-Life Crisis Cabaret. From Facebook to flatshares, weddings to woeful bank accounts, career conundrums to chronically crap sex, the show aims to provide a big, funny musical hug to all those twentysomethings struggling to find their place in the world. …
Much has been made of McDonald’s six Tony wins and she is typically spoken of with reverence. But with it having been nigh on 15 years since she last performed in London, it has only been those lucky enough to have seen her perform on the other side of assorted oceans that have been able to testify to her on-stage reputation.
I’ve just notched up a century of shows for the National Rural Touring Forum. Not that this impressive record helps sell me to potential promoters on the scheme who insist that I’m too niche for their audience. I send them the audience survey form comment from Barry in Builth Wells: I’m going to tell all my mates to go and see him …
The term ‘icon’ is often freely used with little regard for it’s true definition – however from last night’s gig at The Crazy Coqs, Frances Ruffelle clearly merits the title. The Tony Award winner is an acclaimed stage and recording artist who originated the role of Eponine in the legendary Les Miserables (which “On Its Own” might qualify her for icon status), but it’s also her electrifying authenticity that radiates from her in every part of her performance that makes her truly special.
For one night only this week, the fabulous Tiffany Graves was in cabaret at the Crazy Coqs. The stunning performer, increasingly appearing as one of our finest leading ladies, offered a collection of numbers that mixed career highspots with a dash of poignancy and some fabulous comedy.
St James Studio, London
Making a rare appearance in front of the microphone, Paul Baker’s show A Baker’s Dozen was a polished one-nighter that packed out the St James Studio.
In a set lasting little more than an hour, Baker’s magnificent tenor danced over numbers familiar and new in a set-list that was to prove pleasingly heavy on Newley numbers – reminding us that this fabulous British songwriter deserves greater exposure.
Quick to flex his magnificent belt with Streisand’s Being Good Isn’t Good Enough, Baker was soon into the first of his Taboo tributes with Stranger In This World – preceded by a touching if painful recollection of being bullied as a kid – and that his next number was a Quentin Crisp tribute, blending Sting’s An Englishman In New York, with Taboo’s Freak / Ode To Attention Seekers stayed on message in an inspired combo.
Fondly reflecting on Philip Henderson’s The Far Pavilions, the composer was in the audience to see Baker deliver a soaring take on Brighter By Far that had been re-arranged for the St James occasion.
As his selection went on to include Makin’ Whoopee, one wished for Baker to make an album of the American Songbook. The man displays a polished understanding of both lyric and presence, par excellence.
Performing solo throughout, there was one exception when director Frances Ruffelle (who had only recently been directed herself by Baker) joined him on stage for Nice from Lucky Stiff, a duet that reprised their 1997 pairing from the Ahrens and Flaherty show.
Maintaining a standard of nothing short of excellent, a medley of Newley greats treated the crowd to Once In A Lifetime, The Candy Man and What Kind of Fool Am I, with Baker also un-earthing Newley’s Pagliacci-esque The Man Who Makes You Laugh. As the singer sat at an onstage make-up table, donning the pierrot’s white slap and garishly rouged lips, the song’s irony was chilling.
Accompanied throughout by Alex Parker’s quintet, the music was perfectly weighted. Parker’s understanding of the subtleties of musical direction is unmatched for one so young – and under his command the evening’s musical ambience effortlessly ranged from cocktail lounge intimacy to big band bravado.
Wrapping his set with Taboo’s Petrified, a song that Baker has made his own, a few muffled sobs from the St James crowd evidenced the sensitivity of the moment.
This show is off to New York’s 54 Below later this month and Manhattan is in for a treat. The gig offers moments that are at times reflective, spectacular but most of all and for various reasons, simply spine-tingling. When he returns from the USA, A Bakers Dozen demands a longer London run.
Missed Paul in London? You can catch him at New York’s 54 Below on 19th May.
St James Studio, London
Coming in the midst of the London Festival of Cabaret, Scott Alan leaves a very distinctive handprint on the genre. Typically contemplative, his songs touch emotions that are common to us all – love and loss, rejection and reflection. It is however in Alan’s sharing of his life with his audience, (where his pre-song spiel can often last longer than the song itself) that he re-engineers cabaret. Where earlier in the week this pied-piper of songwriting had assembled a phone-book sized guest list of artists to sing his work, tonight was one of a three-night residency simply featuring Cynthia Erivo alongside the songwriter.
I have written before of Erivo’s handling of some of Alan’s most sensitive work and as Broadway beckons, it is plain to see that she is not only one of Alan’s most cherished friends, she is also fast becoming a muse to his creativity.
With one of the strongest yet most perfectly controlled voices of her generation, Erivo brings a polished fragility to Alan’s soulful verse, her take on And There It Is displaying an almost ethereal impishness as her lightly smiling face belied a lyric of complex emotions.
When the pair occasionally duetted, their sensitive counterpoint added a depth. Always, which ended the first half was exquisitely rendered and later it was to be Alan who (surprisingly) delivered the opening lines of Anything Worth Holding Onto before Erivo joined him in a song of remarkable profundity that she has long laid claimed to.
The act one closer was preceded by a confessional to the microphone of the painful loss Alan still feels for Kyle, an ex-boyfriend now deceased. As Alan sobbed at the microphone, there was a sense of witnessing a man on a high wire, as this gifted composer continues to challenge his demons, though any hint of audience prurience or of performer-sensationalism should be swept aside. Alan continually battles his depression and chooses to do so, at times in public and at a piano. His message to those who criticise his on-stage confessionals was blunt. Knowing that his words have inspired other depressives to choose life, he values that contribution over a critic’s carping. It is impossible to fault the man’s integrity, nor to be inspired by his message.
It wasn’t entirely Alan and Erivo. Oliver Tompsett returned to the St James’ stage with a gorgeously nuanced Kiss The Air, Alan’s paean to his mother left bereft after his father’s abrupt marriage walk-out. Tompsett was also to earn an ovation when he was thrust (by Erivo) into joining her in Never Neverland, a song that was not only out of his range but one that he was also completely unfamiliar with. Tompsett rose to the challenge – and where Alan can often be a Lord of Misrule, subjecting his singers to impromptu set-list changes and additions, it was a treat to see him for once hoist with his own petard, Erivo delightfully calling the shots.
Their sold-out run ends tonight – and if Alan needs anything to hold onto at all it is knowing that whilst Erivo is in New York with The Color Purple, the two of them could pack out 54 Below every Sunday night for a year. Get ready to book your tickets, you read it here first!
St James Theatre, London
There was a deliciously different diversity that Scott Alan brought to his one-off gig at the St James Theatre. Entertaining a packed house for an eye-watering (almost) four hours, his guest list ranged from West End stars and TV Reality Show finalists through to audience wannabes.
The New York based singer/songwriter has strong friendships with many of musical theatre’s leading ladies and recent years has seen Cynthia Erivo evolve into a performer who truly gets under the skin of Alan’s writing. With a 3 night Alan & Erivo residency (sold out) about to start at the venue’s smaller Studio room, her inclusion on the bill was an unexpected treat. Erivo set the tone for the evening with her signature Rolls-Royce vocal performance – immense power couched in a silky, elegant style.
An Alan gig is never less than a ballad-fest and Oliver Tompsett, guesting with Darlin’ (Without You), sealed the atmosphere of soulful reflection. It was however to be Madalena Alberto’s take on Blessing, with its verses documenting the pain of Alan coming out to his mother, that brought many to tears.
In another moment of exquisite soprano serenity, The Phantom Of The Opera’s Christine and her cover, Harriet Jones and Emmi Christensson respectively, gave an enchanting interpretation of Always On Your Side. They proved a breathtakingly beautiful pairing, with later on in the evening and also from Phantom, Oliver Savile impressing too.
Anna Jane Casey offered an accomplished excellence to And There It Is, in yet another performance that spoiled the audience with the riches of talent that Alan is able to invite and it was a precious moment that then saw Sophie Evans, previously one of Lloyd Webber’s Dorothys and a finalist from the BBC’s Over The Rainbow, give a fresh nuance to Look, A Rainbow.
Newcomer David Albury performed one of the writer’s most popular numbers Never Neverland with an invigorating up-tempo beat – though in a delightful twist Alan was later to invite any audience member who wanted to sing the number, to join him on stage. Reminiscent of kids called up to a pantomime stage, this impromptu people’s chorus made for a moment that was free of all pretension, with some stunning yet to be discovered voices in the routine!
Elsewhere and away from established star names, Alan had unearthed via YouTube Nicola Henderson and Dublin’s Niall O’Halloran, two performers who shone in their brief moment of West End limelight. The Irishman’s Kiss The Air proving particularly powerful.
And there was just so much more to the gig – It speaks volumes for the professional devotion of Eva Noblezada, currently performing Miss Saigon’s Kim 8 times a week, that she could find the honed energy to sing Alan’s Home with a perfectly poised passion. Lucie Jones was shown somewhat less respect in a cheekily foof-fuelled intro from Alan, but her sensational Watch Me Soar more than answered her host’s irreverence.
Teamed with Craig Colton, Zoe Birkett’s The Journey was immense. Carley Stenson wowed with her usual aplomb and in a revelatory performance Danny-Boy Hatchard, aka EastEnders’ Lee Carter took Alan’s Now, a song written amidst the still bleeding wounds of a ripped-apart relationship and stunned the room again.
Alan famously wears his heart on his sleeve, speaking to the audience of his battle with depression and doing much to trample on the stigma associated with mental health. Above all his overarching message and one that many are likely to have found inspirational, is that life is worth holding on to. (Though the frequent references to his evening’s diet comprising white wine and Xanax could have been toned down.)
Supported on the night by a six-piece band that was all strings and percussion, Musical Director and drummer Ryan Martin delivered a perfectly rehearsed and weighted accompaniment.
As the gig came to a close Erivo returned. Broadway-bound this year as she takes her sensational Celie in The Color Purple to star in New York, when news broke of her casting Alan wrote her a song. At All captured Erivo’s excitement at the achievement of having landed the show’s transfer, yet crossed that emotion with her pain at having to leave her loved ones behind in the UK. Honest lyrics that reduced the singer to tears.
It was left to Sam Bailey to wrap a fine and moving evening with Alan’s cri de coeur, Anything Worth Holding Onto.
The London Festival of Cabaret opens this week and runs for a fortnight across the city. Featuring a line-up from both sides of the Atlantic you can expect legendary names getting up close to a microphone, singing songs that they love (and may also have composed) and reaching out beyond the spotlight to share stories with an audience.
Unlike a staged musical the atmosphere couldn’t be more relaxed – and over a cocktail or glass of wine, maybe with a bite to eat too, listening to an inspirational performer either singing beautifully or sharing a sparkling anecdote makes for a charming evening.
As the final preparations were being drawn up for Tuesday’s opening night, I caught up with Festival Patron and Oscar-winning lyricist Don Black to talk about his love for the art-form.
JB: Don, what drew you to supporting the Festival?
DB: I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, loved cabaret. When I was managing Matt Monroe, all those years ago, I used to go to those northern clubs and cabaret clubs which were rife in the ’60’s. Places like Talk of the Town, I used to love the atmosphere.
When I started going to America a lot, I used go to all the cabaret places in New York. Lots of things drew me to these places.
You would get singers there who sang the different songs, special material, witty songs. Songs you hear very often. No one in cabaret sings My Way or those out and out popular songs. You get some very, very interesting and intriguing artists.
In New York I used to go and see a guy named Oscar Brown Jr., wherever he appeared. In fact I was discussing him only the other day with Van Morrison, who is a huge fan of his, so is Paul Jones, and many people.
I used to go and see Matt Dennis who wrote great songs like Angel Eyes and Let’s Get Away From It All.
I just like that closeness, the intimacy of the cabaret room. I’m delighted that so much is going on in London, in cabaret. I go to the Crazy Coqs quite often along with the St. James and I go to The Pheasantry too. The other night at The Pheasantry I saw Charles Strouse, the man who wrote Annie and Bye Bye Birdie. Now, you tell me where you can go see a guy, nearly 87 years old, talking for 2 hours and sharing anecdotes about Jule Styne and Hal Prince singing his songs?
Also, I really like the idea of them not being great singers! I like watching the song writers, like Strouse, who’s not a great piano player, not a great singer. You get so much heart and so much emotion in those couple of hours. It’s a different kind of evening. Cabaret really is a great love of mine.
I recently saw Anne Reid at the Crazy Coqs. Now Anne is a great example of someone and she won’t mind me saying this, who really is not a great singer. But she’s a great actress, and therefore a great story-teller.
JB: What are your thoughts on the younger cabaret artistes, as compared to those who do cabaret on the back of longer established careers?
DB: What you get from young artists, that you may not get from the older people, is new material. You do get the younger people, they’ll find a song from a failed musical. You think, “Oh isn’t that beautiful.” They can be full of surprises.
But of course the more seasoned a performer is, the more they’ve got more to draw on and of course you can feel for them too. You are close up. So when you see a person in their 60’s and 70’s singing a song about years gone by or missed opportunities, you cannot help but be moved. It is very touching when you see Anne Reid, who’s I don’t know nearly 80 now, singing a Barbara Cook song. You get the goosebumps. And as I said about Charles Strouse, when he went into The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, I mean, god almighty it was phenomenal!
I saw Mitch Winehouse at the Hippodrome a few weeks ago, Amy’s dad. He really put through with about a 12 piece orchestra, and he was terrific. So interesting and of course lots of anecdotes about Amy. It was very personal and also very touching.
JB: So – is it about the songs or the story-telling?
DB: Being a lyric writer I’ve always gone for the story teller. It’s interesting because Tony Bennett’s favourite singer and he’s often said this and it says a lot, is Louis Armstrong. Sinatra’s favourite singer was Fred Astaire. These people aren’t known for singing but they are known for storytelling. You hang on every word when these people sing. That’s what I like about cabaret, you don’t have to be the greatest singer, but you just have to get your story across. That’s why with people like Lorna Luft, you hang on every comma.
JB: Don, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and enjoy the Festival!
Aside from cabaret, Don also spoke at length about his song-writing career and part 2 of this fascinating conversation will be published shortly.
The London Festival Of Cabaret – Celebrating Song opens on 28th April and continues at venues across the capital until 11th May. Confirmed artists appearing include Kerry Ellis, Barb Jungr, Janie Dee and Scott Alan (amongst many others) and you can also watch some of today’s younger stars such as Jamie Parker and Caroline Sheen branching out onto the capital’s cabaret circuit.
Dead Royal intertwines the stories of Wallis Simpson and Diana Spencer, one man plays two women who never quite made it to the throne despite behaving like a petulant old queen and an empty-headed young one. We sent our oldest and youngest, er, Royal Correspondents to see it. JF: I suppose this sent you scurrying to […]
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***John G Smith
The John G Smith Trio are a relatively new addition (albeit comprised of some fabulously experienced talent) to London’s jazz and cabaret circuit and it was a full Crazy Coqs that welcomed their debut late night gig.
With Smith on piano and occasional vocals. James Graydon on guitar and singing too and Zoltan Dekany on acoustic bass, the evening was billed as a humorous rediscovery of songs by Billy Joel, Paul Simon and others. Whilst Joel’s tunes were given a sometimes intelligent re-working, with an opening mash up of And So It Goes with The Longest Time that will have tickled the eardrums of the star’s cognoscenti in the audience, some of the jazz work missed its mark. Joel’s gorgeous number from his Turnstiles collection, New York State Of Mind was not only re-arranged, its tempo was brutally speeded up too. In so doing, much of the song’s delicate beauty was lost.
Also, Smith had decided to eschew all of Joel’s lyrics. On reflection this was probably a wise call, given that the words would no longer have scanned to fit the revised beats that Smith had imposed. But even more intriguingly, the pianist had then decided to include the lyrics of a handful of songs that he and Graydon had composed and which were dedicated to / inspired by their respective loving partners. Great idea, but the homegrown words proved as cheesy as they were sincere. If you’re going to strip out Joel’s poetry from your set list, then it’s a tad disingenuous to subject a captive audience to your own scribblings, anodyne in comparison to Joel’s balladeer-ing brilliance.
That being said – there were moments of genius on the night. All three musicians were a joy to behold, with Dekany’s fabulous fingerwork in Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie defining the purest of talents. When they were joined, sadly for one number only, by jazz violinist Michael Keelan who had hot-footed it over from the Drury Lane orchestra pit, the passionate Chick Corea inspired collaboration set the room alight.
The two-act set makes for some charming entertainment – but it needs work. The Billy Joel compositions deserve more than the current re-engineering into muzak and if the band are going to hint at humour on the flyer, then they need to deliver on the night. Though, with a musical craftsmanship (and pedigree) that cannot be faulted, The John G Smith Trio have every chance of developing into a vibrant feature of the capital’s jazz scene.
Crazy Coqs, London
Back by popular demand, Frances Ruffelle brought her song cycle of a show, Beneath The Dress, to a packed out Crazy Coqs for two nights only.
In what was to prove an eclectic, coquette-ick whirl, Ruffelle ‘s one-woman one-act set drew on a collection of mainstream and left field numbers from both sides of the Atlantic. In parts whimsical and reflective, at other times outrageously celebratory, those who know the singer well may perhaps recognise the moments that she has suggested hint at autobiography.
Ruffelle’s entrance through the crowd offered a provocative wit, with the singer soon into one of her own compositions, Hit Me With A Hot Note, proving she not only possesses one of the most gorgeously controlled and distinctively timbred voices around, her writing is neat too.
Above all, Ruffelle is one of those uber-talented women who defines the craft of acting through song. The students of today need to watch her and learn, as she imbues just the right amount of melancholy into Rodgers and Hart’s Ten Cents A Dance, whilst her take on Lilac Wine the James Shelton 1950 classic and made famous in turn (depending upon your age) by Nina Simone, Elkie Brooks and latterly Katie Melua, was revelatory. Ruffelle understands her songs intimately, coaxing newly discovered nuance and poignancy from numbers we thought we knew well.
The unpredictability to the set list mirrored Ruffelle’s cutely distinctive persona. Tom Waits’ Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis is probably not often heard amidst the art-deco swirls of the Crazy Coqs, likewise the car crash of a number that is Coffee from See What I See. Each though added to the confection of reflection that made up the night.
The show wouldn’t have been complete without a nod to Ruffelle’s most celebrated creation, Les Miserables’ Eponine and with several tributes to Piaf throughout the evening, including an enchanting mash up that saw Piaf’s classic Hymn To Love segueing in and out of Les Mis’ On My Own, it is clear to see Ruffelle has a metier that’s firmly rooted in the entente cordiale.
David Barber’s five piece band were excellent in support and as ever, producer Danielle Tarento’s commitment to excellence had ensured a polished turn. Beneath The Dress show has already toured widely and these two nights were not enough. Ruffelle fills the venue, not just with an audience but a gorgeous ambience too – The Crazy Coqs should get her back soon.
Frances Ruffelle returns to London’s Crazy Coqs at the end of this week for two nights only. Reprising her acclaimed one-woman show Beneath The Dress, it is no surprise that her Friday night gig is already sold out with only a handful of tickets remaining for Saturday.
Amidst rehearsals and preparation, I caught up with Frances for a brief chat about the show.
JB: Please tell me, what was the inspiration for Beneath The Dress?
FR: Basically I just put together a show that was about myself in a way, but also about situations that I associate with, or singers who I love, or songs that I have been influenced by and songs with situations that I associate with as well. And also it just simply celebrates women who love to entertain.
It’s really a song cycle more than a cabaret, a story of one woman, but a lot of people when they are watching it, think I am playing different characters. It’s one woman going through her life and starting out as young and excited, with her whole life in front of her and the set evolves into a much more jaded older woman at the end who is basically having to come to terms with stuff and accept life as it is.
JB: Is there an autobiographical inspiration to the show?
FR: Not exactly. But there are moments of me in the show that my friends will recognise.
JB: What is the history of the show?
FR: I first did it at Madame JoJo’s actually and then I did it in Edinburgh about five years ago. I’ve done it in New York, in Poland, a lot of places. I’d sort of felt as if the show was in my past and I didn’t expect to be doing it again, but then Ruth Leon at the Crazy Coqs who hadn’t seen it, said “Hey how about coming back to the Crazy Coqs and doing Beneath the Dress because I would like to see it”. So here I am!
I’ve added three or four different songs because I thought it would be great for audiences that have seen it before to have something else, and I actually think these songs help tell the story even more. I have refined it.
JB: Without expecting you to give away any secrets, where do the songs derive from, is it shows, is it the songbooks?
FR: From absolutely everywhere. From Cole Porter to Tom Waits, to Jacques Brel. I also have also some lyrics that I have written myself.
JB: How big is your band?
FR: We have got four pieces, we might have five we are not sure yet. I am going to decide that with David Barber, my MD. Originally the show had a six-piece band, but that’s too much for the Crazy Coqs. Making sure that the show perfectly fits the venue is very important to me.
JB: And who is producing or directing you?
FR: Well Danielle Tarento always produces me and originally I had taken direction from Paul Baker. Paul and I have played opposite each other three times in three different productions including my Roxy to his Amos in the West End. He directed me at the Edinburgh Festival and has been really really helpful and amazing as Beneath The Dress has evolved. Funnily enough, I am going to be directing his one man show later this year as well.
JB: I recall that in your last appearance at the Crazy Coqs in your Paris Original cabaret, the show included several gorgeous costume changes. How many changes of dress make up Beneath The Dress?
FR: [laughs] Four!
JB: Sounds fabulous and I am looking forward to seeing the show. Thanks so much for sparing the time to talk!
Frances Ruffelle performs in Beneath The Dress at the Crazy Coqs on Friday April 10 (sold out) and Saturday April 11
***** Hugh Maynard – inset Rachelle Ann Go and Kwang-Ho Hong
Every now and then a gig comes along that not only marks a performer’s talent, but also evidences their status in the industry and even more rarely, a remarkable generosity of spirit. So it is with Hugh Maynard, currently playing John in the West End’s revived Miss Saigon, who on the night he launched his debut solo album Something Inside So Strong not only sang sensationally but also chose to share his stage with a talented corps of Miss Saigon colleagues. It all made for a memorable night at the Hippodrome.
In front of his 5-piece band (MD Liam Holms) and on his own Maynard sparkled, covering Seal’s Kiss From A Rose in a distinctly fresh interpretation that still retained a hint of the writer’s hallmark edgy tenderness. When A Man Loves A Woman offered a further glimpse of the controlled power of Maynard’s belt, whilst in a disarmingly brave choice for a fella, his take on Brenda Russell’s Get Here (a smash hit for Oleta Adams) showed the full range of his tenor magnificence.
Maynard’s big number in the Boublil and Schoenberg epic is Bui Doi, an impassioned plea on behalf of Vietnam’s “dust of life” kids, the mixed-race progeny fathered by long absent GIs. A neat twist saw a 7-strong ensemble of Miss Saigon’s finest give a stunning, cheeky twist on the number, referring to the “spice of life” and sung a-capella no less, conducted by Maynard and gloriously led by the show’s Carolyn Maitland.
Making the short trip from the Prince Edward Theatre to guest for Maynard, his featured colleagues Rachelle Ann Go and Kwang-Ho Hong both sung solos from Les Miserables. Each famous in SE Asia, both guests offered proof, if any was needed, of Cameron Mackintosh’s ability to source talent from across the globe. Hong’s Bring Him Home along with Go’s I Dreamed A Dream set spines-tingling. Their song choices may have been well worn favourites yet each electrified the Hippodrome crowd before going on to duet with their host.
One night was not enough and Hugh Maynard needs to return to the cabaret stage soon. Until then he remains a living reminder of the excellence to be found in London’s musical theatre today.
Crazy Coqs, London
*****Joe Stilgoe and Claire Martin
The syncopated excellence of Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe has to be seen (and heard) to be believed. Martin, one of our finest jazz divas, defines insouciance as she controls her perfect timbre, her voice swooping like a seabird from the most glorious moment of an occasional mezzo trills, down to a luxuriously resonant contralto. Her pitch is perfect and her timing pinpoint – there is truly nothing more a cabaret singer could offer.
And then there’s Stilgoe. With a reverential impertinence that reminds one of Peter Shaffer’s young Amadeus, eschewing sheet music and much like a Transformer straight out of the recent movie franchise, he becomes one with his piano. Stilgoe really is that good. The pair’s set list, loosely themed around Springtime takes in the Great Songbooks from both sides of the pond and a segue that seamlessly joins Gershwin’s S’Wonderful, to Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World and which in less confident hands would appear cheesy, here just seems so natural. Not just a pianist, the young musician’s guitar playing is divine too and he also delivers a neat mimic of a muted trumpet. But it was only when sat at his piano that Stilgoe junior whistled at me, that I truly realised how proud of son Joe, dad Richard should truly be.
For an evening packed with gems, the rest is detail. The pair (whose harmonies were always perfectly aligned) gave a cracking treatment to Sinatra’s That’s Life and also enchanted in Legrand’s Watch What Happens. Martin soloed sublimely with April In Paris, whilst her treatment of the Garland classic Get Happy! referenced the Hollywood star in style, yet bore a fresh interpretation that was nothing short of sensational.
No matter their patter occasionally drifted. On this night the singing was all that counted and rarely are two performers so marvellously melded. They’re only here for a week, don’t miss ‘em!
In residence until 28th March
Kings Place, London
There are few Leading Ladies that have accomplished so much, so young, as Cynthia Erivo. Having starred in a sell out run of The Color Purple and provided the vocal excellence to the most inappropriately named show of 2014, I Can’t Sing! (she really Can Sing!) and led a recent national tour of Sister Act, it was only going to be a matter of time before she headlined her own gig. The lofty yet surprisingly intimate Kings Place, tucked behind the back of Kings Cross was packed to hear this most youthful of divas perform Hear My Soul, a collection of songs that she had either written or been inspired by.
There was an attention to detail surrounding the concert that is the hallmark of Erivo’s approach to her craft, from her carefully worded programme notes, to the five piece band she’d assembled under Tom Deering’s skilled direction. Apart from her encore (of which, more later) Erivo avoided the songs from her big career shows to date, opening the show with Signal, one of several of her own compositions that were to feature amongst her set list. Smoothly segueing into a charming cover of All of Me, the honey-voiced chanteuse sang the John Legend hit with her boyfriend Dean John Wilson in a duet that was as touchingly delivered as it was perfectly pitched.
Labrinth’s Jealous saw Erivo purr like the engine of a Rolls. Her rarely heard (and incredible) lower range giving the song the velvety texture it deserved. Another self-written number, Fly Before You Fall which also serves as the title track to the movie Beyond The Lights, proved to be the most beautifully crafted of her compositions and gave the most poignant depth to the evening’s first half, though the highspot of the pre-interval set was unquestionably the spine tingling fidelity that Erivo beautifully laid upon Dreamgirls’ One Night Only.
Having opened the evening in a gorgeously tailored trouser outfit, Erivo returned for act two in a subtle yet sensationally fitted red gown. Commencing the second with Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody gave the evening’s only blip, with Erivo surprisingly rooted to her microphone stand, as her line-up briefly resembled a wedding-reception covers band. The song demands movement (the secret’s in the title) and a big Whitney dance number needed big dance and Erivo needed (and to be fair deserved) some better direction from her producer.
No matter, for next up and staying with Whitney’s family, was a sensational take on Aretha Franklin’s Ain’t No Way. The crowd went wild for the diminutive songstress and as Erivo moved up through the gears, her home straight was a succession of classic songs smashed right out of the park. Arlen and Harburg’s Over The Rainbow, a song that can easily be mauled in clumsy hands, was given the most perfectly fragile confection of excellence, whilst Somewhere from West Side Story offered Erivo a rare moment of self-indulgence, telling her audience that this was to be the first time she had ever sung the song live and then, only because she loved it and would quite possibly never be cast to perform it.
Somewhere was, of course, flawless before Erivo returned to Dreamgirls for a knockout And I Am Telling You. Overcome by the power of the song and the audience reaction that she was inspiring, the singer had to pause before delivering the song’s monumental final bars. Erivo suggests the power and majesty of a youthful Diana Ross. It really is quite simple – Dreamgirls has to come to the West End and when it does, Cynthia Erivo’s Effie needs to top the bill.
The cheering, standing ovation led into an encore that could only have been a sensational delivery of I’m Here from The Color Purple, a show that barely two years ago had imprinted Erivo’s name onto the capital’s theatre-going psyche (and if there was any justice, so should have deserved its own cast recording too!)
As she re-lived that most passionate and beautiful of songs, spines tingled again. Igniting musical theatre Cynthia Erivo is one of her generation’s greats and truly is the brightest of rising stars.
You can see Cynthia Erivo performing, live with Scott Alan, at London’s St James Studio from 4th – 6th May 2015
It’s not often you get to spend the night with someone who danced with Fred Astaire, drank with Dean Martin and did who-knows-what with Elvis. It’s been eleven years since Liliane Montevecchi played London. Then she enthralled Pizza on the Park, now it’s Crazy Coqs where French ambience seems a better match to her show Paris on […]
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If I’ve been to one compilation evening where a range of theatrical types repackage show tunes on the theme of ‘love, sex and relationships’, I’ve been to a hundred but the credentials of the two killer-diller headliners now trading as ‘The Desperate Divas’ made this one a must. I loved Anita-Louise Combe’s wit and musical […]
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