Friday, July 13, 2012

Cabaret: Two Weeks in Paris

Devised and performed by Analisa Bell
Musical director Mia Brine
With Rhoda Lopez and Laura Hopwood
Downstairs at the Maj
11 – 14 July 2012

You’ve got to hand it to Analisa Bell.
I doubt even her most ardent fans (and she seems to have plenty of them) would claim she’s got one of the great voices, or that the shows she puts together downstairs at the Maj have any particular insight or wit, but there’s something about her that wins you over.
Maybe it’s her utter lack of pretension, the obvious pleasure she gets in being able to do the things she does, her wide-eyed ordinariness, that does the trick. Maybe it’s also her canny instinct for her audience that you have to admire, even if you don’t share their enthusiasm.
But let’s be frank. This little show, inspired, it seems, by an unexceptional two weeks' holiday in Paris, is a barely sustainable vehicle for Bell, and nothing she does in performance lifts it above a sort of musical slide night.
The songs are without exception standard issue and often fairly brutally expose her limitations as both a vocalist and performer. She also falls headlong into the trap (and here she’s only one of a crowd) of picking the same, most obvious, material from the repertoire of the artists she covers – as I grumbled in my review of the recent Songs for Nobodies, “the safe-as-houses song selection continues the disturbing trend of reducing the great performers of the last century into one or two-hit wonders”.
Even if Bernadette Robinson can get away with it, Bell can’t. Her Edith Piafs, La Vie en Rose and the inevitable Non, Je ne Regrette Rien are colourless and odourless. She hasn’t got either the power or expressiveness, the height or depth, for these kinds of songs, but if she’d chosen some lesser-known material she could at least have avoided the obvious, odious comparison with performances everybody knows.
She does have a genuine talent, though, and that’s for the feisty, muscular belting out of songs that suit her style and range. It’s why she did such a good job as Ethel Merman in last year’s You’ve Got That Thing, and why the bracket of Jaques Brel’s Carousel and the Alan Menken/ Howard Ashman Le Poisson from Disney’s The Little Mermaid late in the first set worked so much better than the material around it. It’s not enough to sustain a solo show, but that’s your knitting, Analise, and you should stick to it!

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