As part of the hour-long Coq-Tales on Thursday 13 October 2016, I got to chat to two incredible West End leading ladies, Anna-Jane Casey and Emma Hatton, both of whom have their own cabaret shows at Brasserie Zedel this month. Anna-Jane’s immediately followed our chat last week while Emma returns with her Eva Cassidy tribute Songbird on 27 and 28 October.
At Crazy Coqs on Friday 28 October 2016 at 4.30pm, I’ll be chatting to a trio of talents from the 25th anniversary revival of Moby Dick! The Musical, which opens this month at the Union Theatre: director-choreographer Andrew Wright along with Anton Stephans and Brenda Edwards, who play Headmistress and Esta in the show and who are both former X Factor finalists.
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.
London may have been sweltering under the warmest December since records began, but deep in a Piccadilly basement it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas the other night as Gary Williams whipped up a blizzard of seasonal treats, bringing his Swingin’ Christmas show to the Crazy Coqs cabaret.
Julie Madly Deeply is a technically brilliant performance from Sarah-Louise Young that charts the life of possibly the queen of our national treasures, Julie Andrews. A self-confessed fan and devotee, with a knowledge of both Andrews’ life and repertoire that is arguably unsurpassed, Young’s whirlwind performance has criss-crossed the Atlantic, with this three-day residency at The Crazy Coqs marking the show’s return to the capital.
In her one-woman cabaret, Maria Kesselman firmly proves herself to be a force to be reckoned with. A truly seasoned professional, she seamlessly blends an impressive voice and near-perfect technique with an ability to make each and every audience member feel as though they have known her for years.
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.
Crazy Coqs, London
****Kit and McConnel
The cabaret duo Kit and McConnel have only been performing together for 3 years, so this show’s title The Game Is Old dues not suggest themselves. Instead it refers perhaps to their satirical act that contains classic melodies given a modern twist, as they cover contemporary issues with razor-sharp wit. Nominated for the 2015 London Cabaret Award, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel make a welcome return to The Crazy Coqs.
From the outset, the sight of the debonair McConnel on piano and the exuberant presence of vocalist Kit commands our attention. A wave of nostalgia for a bygone era in their first number quickly makes way for the crowd pleasing Nandos (parodying Abba’s Fernando) containing some sharp and incredibly funny observations. There Are No Plumbers Left in Poland is satire at its best, as is the very true to the mark Pilates.
Between songs the dry humour of McConnel is evident in his stories, with his virtuosic piano skills proving incredible during the Liszt improvisation game.
A cleverly constructed original playlist is never an easy task, but the beautiful and finely observed second act songs such as All The Things We Never Said and Afghanistan offer a wonderful contrast to the mostly comic elements of the evening’s programme.
Kit and McConnel are seasoned performers who combine their obvious great talent of music and comedy with charismatic and endearing personae. There is room for them to explore their set’s tender moments further, similarly we could hear more of McConnel’s humorous stories with input from Kit. But this show has the power to make an audience laugh from the beginning of a song right to its end and remains a privilege to watch.
In residence until 4th JulyGuest reviewer: Francesca Mepham
Crazy Coqs, London
In recent years New York singer-pianist Eric Yves Garcia has made quite an impact. An award winning cabaret artiste, he is here for a week’s residency at the Crazy Coqs with his show, One Night Standards.
Relaxed from the outset, it was hard to comprehend that this was Garcia’s UK debut. Beginning with Arlen and Mercer’s Ridin’ On The Moon, it rapidly became clear that Garcia is a performer who can make one believe every note and lyric. Accompanied by Joe Pettit throughout on double bass, his first song declared his arrival and from there it continued with the deliciously naughty One Hour With You. If there is one male singer who can deliver this Whiting and Robin treat with the perfect mix of glint in their eye and silky vocals, it is Garcia.
The mesmerizingly good-looking Garcia has a self-deprecating patter that forms an impressive part of his gig. With pinpoint timing he talks of performing in Florida (or as he described it, ‘’god’s waiting room’), to an audience response that is testament to his raconteur ability.
Numbers that were more emotionally exposed such as Hey Look, No Cryin’ proved a powerful highlight of the set, with Garcia’s understated vocals and vulnerability counteracting the wit and charm of his earlier comical pieces.
Captivating is an oft overused word but it describes Garcia perfectly. From an astounding musicianship and controlled velvet voice, to his well-honed comic presence, the man is a delight. If a performance could transport the audience to another era, one of forgotten romance, that still manages to sound as fresh as it did sixty years ago, then this is it.
Performs until 13th June 2015
Guest reviewer: Francesca Mepham
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.
***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
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
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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Anne Reid’s father was a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, reporting from India, Iran and Lebanon. She says she likes journalists, as long as they don’t write anything nasty about her. Spending an evening in her company at Crazy Coqs it would be impossible to harbour nasty thoughts about Reid – she is likeable to the […]
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As a gay man whose formative clubbing years were in the glamour-obsessed 80s, drag ought to be right up my (Danny La) Rue, “dear”, but it just isn’t. Never was. Even now I can’t see the irony in tipping up to a Soho bar in colourful wig, eyeliner and chest hair, and the historical drag […]
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