Cabaret and Comedy Carnivale
His Majesty’s Theatre
June 8, 2011
Tom Burlinson brought Now We’re Swingin’!, the latest iteration of his fascination with the great swing singers, to the main stage of His Majesty’s Theatre on Wednesday night as part of its Cabaret and Comedy Carnivale.
The very healthy crowd suggests that the ambitious move to bring featured artists from the Carnivale programme upstairs into the theatre’s main hall has a real chance of success.
Burlinson is an immensely likeable and intelligent performer burdened with few failings and blessed with a canny knowledge of his limitations.
He has a pleasant rather than a memorable voice, but he’s got the actor’s gift to know how to work his material.
Above all, he respects his audience. Much water has flown under the bridge since the great era of swing’s baritone voices was brutally ended by rock and roll’s tenors, and for most of us these singers and these songs appeal to a referred nostalgia, rather than being a visceral, immediate part our actual life experience. Burlinson recognises this, I think, and peppers his narration with hard information – Grammy and Academy awards, chart positions, record sales – and apocrypha that give the show a revealing and enlightening framework.
It makes him our guide, rather than an impersonator, so he’s able to range from Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin to Sammy Davis Jr and Bobby Darrin, and even to the arrangements of modern interpreters like Harry Connick Jr, Robbie Williams and Michael Buble, without jarring changes in style or stance.
He’s at his strongest with up-tempo material – Beyond the Sea, Birth of the Blues and Feeling Good were standouts – where the full force of the band swings in behind him.
He occasionally falters, either because of the vocal idiosyncrasy of a song’s best-known version, like Martin’s You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You, or because it calls for sheer power, like Davis’s I’ve Got to be Me, but these are mis-steps that matter little and are easily overlooked.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian link here