Friday, October 30, 2015

Cabaret: Fancy Meeting You (★★★★)

by Izaak Lim, Amalie O’Hara and Kathleen Douglas
Music by Harold Arlen
Directed by Michael Loney
Performed by Anne-Marie Biagioni, Cassandra Charlick and William Groucutt
Downstairs at the Maj
29 - 31 October, 2015

Fancy Meeting You is the third outing for the team of writer Izaak Lim and director Michael Loney in the Downstairs at the Maj cabaret seasons, and, while it’s something of a departure from their previous shows, it’s every bit as successful.

Their formula is as simple as it effective; take a great American songwriter – composer or lyricist – and build a narrative around their songs. You’ve Got That Thing and Exactly Like You were biographical pastiches of Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields respectively, but Fancy Meeting You breaks the mould, using the songs of Harold Arlen to tell a neat story of love faithless and faithful set in a joint something like the Cotton Club.

That story takes in themes of race and homosexual love that give it a contemporary relevance without weighing down the evening’s entertainment.
Because it’s the tunes that count, and what tunes they are! Of all the towering figures of the American songbook, perhaps only George Gershwin was as deep in the blues as Arlen, and that keeps his repertoire fresh and edgy many decades later.

Of course there’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow, considered by many the greatest of all American tunes, and certainly the one that best captures its wistful optimism. Here it’s performed in gorgeous harmony as the finale by the club’s queen, Miss Lucille (Cassandra Charlick), her confidante and clarinetist Abe (William Groucutt) and the ball-of-fire ingénue Maggie May (Anne-Marie Biagioni).

While it’s the melody you’ll leave whistling, it’s far from the only highlight. Two of them belong to Groucutt, who lands both a gender-flipped Stormy Weather and the ultimate Sinatra late-night standard One For My Baby in his luckiest day as a performer.

The statuesque, elegant Charlick contributes great talent and the experience of years on the international cabaret circuit, to some of Arlen's most challenging numbers, and, not for the first time, Biagioni reveals her star quality in a red-hot performance. Her beautifully controlled Never Has Seen Snow, an unfairly obscure Arlen classic, is a show-stopper in a show that never does.       

Set 'em up, Joe      

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