Friday, July 6, 2012

Cabaret: Well Swung

 Devised by Mick Christo
Performed by Nick Christo and Chrystal de Grussa
Downstairs at the Maj
7 – 10 September, 2011

Cabaret is an intimate exchange between the performer and his audience, and when you're up that close and personal, it helps a great deal if you like the person you’re watching.
There are a number of ways this can happen, and the talent of the artist and the quality of the show are only two of them. In the case of Nick Christo’s Well Swung, the third, and so far best, of the Cabaret Soiree series downstairs at His Majesty’s Theatre, it was his generosity that won me over. It was apparent from moment one that Christo was going to struggle to tear our attention away from his side-kick, the riveting Chrystal de Grussa, but, instead of relegating her to supporting status, he gave her full rein, to the great benefit of the show.
It’s a pity Christo doesn’t seem to have the confidence in himself as he clearly does in her; through much of the show – a cleverly selected assortment of hits and musical arcania – he just wouldn’t let the songs work for him. Even when the medleys that dominate the evening were adroitly structured and his tempo changes dramatic, the narrative of his material and the emotion of his performance remained frustratingly elusive. When he did give the songs space to work, most notably in his terrific take on the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ Zoot Suit Riot (seasoned, but not submerged, by a throw-away line from Adele and a splash of Lady Gaga’s Americano), and the Funny Girl-anchored  “funcore” that ended the show, things went swimmingly. Even a dewy-eyed spoken word version of the Muppet anthem, Green, was fun and touching – and at least he let it have a beginning, a middle and an end. At other times – a melange of Back in Business, Fly Me to the Moon and Let’s Get Loud, and a run at That’s Life that he never let settle into its groove were glaring examples – the performance suffered from mannerism and forced inventiveness.
Perhaps unfairly, this makes Christo seem something of a Jack-of-all-trades; he should give himself the room to show to show us which of them has mastered.
No such problems for de Grussa, though. Whether she was whistling or playing bass badly, hamming it up with Christo or working the crowd with The Zuton’s Valerie, she was a blast. Keep an eye out for her.

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