Downstairs at the Maj
7 – 10 September, 2011
The Cabaret and Comedy Carnivale Downstairs at the Maj returns to safer waters this week with a pastiche of popular romantic songs showcasing the lyric soprano voice of Pamela Jansson accompanied by veteran Perth players Ashley Arbuckle (violin) and Sue Bluck (piano).
The great charm of the programme, an otherwise unsurprising collection of standards including Someone to Watch Over Me, The Man I Love, Cheek to Cheek, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Embraceable You and Begin the Beguine (a small prize for anyone who can give me a scientific explanation for why I hate that song so much) was Jansson’s faithfully anachronistic delivery.
I mean that as a compliment. Jansson employed a heavy, controlled coloratura vibrato liberally throughout the performance, along with some unusual intonations – the result, perhaps, of many years living and training in Sweden.
The effect, once you resist the urge to dismiss it as merely comic, was a beguiling throwback to the vocal and performance style adopted by operatically-inclined popular singers of the 1930s and ‘40s; think Jeanette McDonald, Kathryn Grayson or Deanne Durbin (who – I digress – is still alive; she turned her back on Hollywood, which she despised, at the height of her popularity over sixty years ago, and has lived privately outside Paris ever since).
As Jansson was performing the hit songs of the period when this vocal style was in vogue, it gave them an authenticity and, counterintuitively, novelty (everything old is new again) that was truly charming. As was the accurate and skilful work of Bluck and Arbuckle behind her.
For all that charm, the show cried out for an outside hand to give it a stronger narrative, and its performers more confidence. The work the writers Nick MacLaine and Izaak Lim and director Michael Loney did recently with another Downstairs at the Maj production, the Cole Porter collection You’ve Got That Thing, showed how much an idea can be lifted by creative guidance, and it was sorely missed here.
Be that as it may, there is clearly and understandably an audience for the great standards well performed, and Arbukle, Bluck and Jansson are more than capable of providing for it.