Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
Life is a cabaret, old chum… but it can be taught new tricks
I love musical theatre, as regular readers will know; but I adore cabaret. There is nothing quite like the intimate art of singers revealing themselves in song in close quarters; in the last few weeks, I’ve experienced some of the very best exponents of it — Liz Callaway, in both London and New York, performing her new Sondheim show, “To Steve With Love”, that’s now newly also available on CD; and the divine Melissa Errico, bringing her blissful celebration of noir to London.
Both Callaway and Errico appeared in London at Crazy Coqs, the stunning room adjoining Brasserie Zedel just off Piccadilly Circus, that has become the best programmed cabaret venue in the capital. Alas, with the venue now under new ownership, and James Albrecht — who has programmed the room for FANE — is stepping aside at the end of December; let’s just hope the venue keeps faith with regular cabaret, and doesn’t — as happened with the wonderful Matcham Room at the Hippodrome — get thrown over for something like Magic Mike.
On Friday night, I saw a double-bill there of cabaret at its absolute finest: first the incomparable British singer Barb Jungr, re-animating a collection of 60s & 70s pop songs to make them sound freshly minted and meaningful; and then Broadway’s legendary Donna McKechnie, with a thrilling all-Sondheim show.
I’ve long thought that Jungr is one of our very finest cabaret singers (for want of abetter term for what she does); she holds the audience in the palm of her hands as she makes bold interpretive and acting choices. Backed by a trio of musicians led by Jenny Carr, she is in startlingly animated form; she threads personal connections to her songs with her uniquely deadpan banter, and then delivers them like a storm.
LIke Callaway, McKechnie provides a direct link to Sondheim himself: she was in the original production of COMPANY (1970) and later played both Phyllis & Sally in FOLLIES (at London’s Drury Lane & New Jersey’s Papermill Playhouse respectively. She is a master of showing a song’s dramatic intent in close-up focus.
A death blow to the ENO?
Last week The Stage reported that ENO chair Harry Brunjes told an All-Party Parliamentary Group that the company would be forced to close in April, if the proposed intention that it instead relocate to Manchester was maintained. “There is a lot of discussion around relocation to Manchester, and we have got to flatten that immediately. There is no relocation,” he told them.
Not least because the idea is entirely untested: Manchester was not consulted as to whether it wanted or needed the company, nor where it would find the audience in an area already served by Opera North (based in nearby Leeds), and what the impact on that company would be.
He starkly also commented that unless the cut was reversed or additional funding found, it would be the end of the ENO. “This is closing ENO down. This is losing 600 jobs from London of talented and devoted and able people across all departments – so let’s get this clear. Manchester is the final scene of The Wizard of Oz – you pull the curtain, and there is a bloke turning a wheel and puffing smoke in the air. So as it stands, ENO will close in April after nearly a century, and that’s the end of it.”
As it happens, I caught the company’s terrific new production of G&S’s THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD on Saturday afternoon — an engaging, accessible, affordable and quintessentially English operetta — and why we need this company. Gilbert and Sullivan are an essential part of the tapestry of English opera, but for too long they were relegated to the amateur and university college society fringes; this production shows how it should be done — and how it should be sung.
FUTURE SHOWS IN LONDON AND BEYOND
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-november-21/
This week sees different versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on both sides of the Atlantic — tonight, Jefferson Mays opens his solo version on Broadway, while on Wednesday Owen Teale leads the cast of Matthew Warchus’s Old Vic perennial. The week also brings the return of ELF to the Dominion (opening Thursday) and a delayed opening for KPOP on Broadway (moved from last night to next Sunday, after COVID affected members of the company).
See you here on Thursday…
If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)