Feature Preview: The American Songbook in London [Jermyn Street Theatre – February 6-March 4 2007]

Written by: Michael Darvell

Although there are more night-clubs opening in London, there is still a lack of venues to replace the sort of cabaret that used to be performed at The Ritz, the Café Royal’s Green Room and Pizza on the Park (which is now called Live at the Park! and is strictly jazz only).

Most visiting artists from the U.S. reckoned Pizza on the Park to be the best cabaret room in the world. Now, virtually the only London cabaret venue left is the always-enterprising Jermyn Street Theatre. A month-long season called “The American Songbook in London” has just started there, featuring songs by four of the most celebrated American song and music-theatre writers, Frank Loesser, Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

Opening with the incomparable Andrea Marcovicci, the season is presented and programmed by Jeff Harnar, an American singer who is no stranger to Pizza on the Park where he has in the past presented some fellow U.S. artists. He makes his official London cabaret debut at Jermyn Street in the final week of the season (27 February-4 March) singing Cole Porter. After Marcovicci (6-11 February) and the songs of Frank Loesser, comes Steve Ross (13-18 February) with a Sondheim programme and Maude Maggart (20-25 February) with the work of Irving Berlin. Incidentally Steve Ross will also present his one-man show on Arthur Tracy, the Street Singer (18 February at 7.30 p.m. only). The success of this season will determine whether further programmes can be scheduled, so London had better take these supreme artists to their hearts now!

Andrea Marcovicci inaugurated the season with the words and music of Frank Loesser, legendary Tin Pan Alley song-smith, dubbed the ‘Jewish Leprechaun’ and writer of some 700 songs, who also gave the world a handful of great musicals including “Where’s Charley?”, “Guys and Dolls”, “The Most Happy Fella”, “Hans Christian Andersen” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (which won a Pulitzer Prize). Andrea’s set covers all aspects of this great songwriter who, apart from writing with himself (words and music) also collaborated on lyrics with over 80 other composers including Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael, Burton Lane and Arthur Schwartz. Andrea considers “Guys and Dolls” to be the great American musical; well, it has 15 songs, all of them hit numbers and she does ‘If I Were a Bell’, ‘I’ll Know’ and ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ with immense charm, while Jeff Harnar joins in with ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ and the show’s title number.

Frank Loesser had an originality that no other American songwriter has ever achieved. He was the voice of the people, speaking the jargon and the slang of everyday U.S. vernacular, a poet for the common man. Just think about Loesser’s lyrics to such standard love-songs as ‘I Don’t Want to Walk Without You’, ‘On a Slow Boat to China’, Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year’ or the more rousing ‘Standing On the Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By)’ and you have Loesser in a nutshell – subtle but direct. Marcovicci obviously enjoys singing and talking about these songs. The pleasure with which she hugs the words and the music to her bosom is palpable. She is one excellent interpreter of a fine body of classic Americana and is aided by musical director Shelly Markham on piano and Alec Dankworth on bass. Don’t miss!

  • “The American Songbook in London” at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1
  • Telephone: 020-7287 2875
  • 6-11 Feb: Andrea Marcovicci sings Frank Loesser
  • 13-18 Feb: Steve Ross sings Stephen Sondheim
  • 20-25 Feb: Maude Maggart sings Irving Berlin
  • 27 Feb-4 Mar: Jeff Harnar sings Cole Porter
  • Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m.; matinees Saturday & Sunday at 3 p.m.
  • Tickets: £23.50 including champagne; £20.00 if booking all four shows; concessions £14.00; Tuesday opening nights £40.00 including dinner. Also special dinner-and-show offer for £40 at Franco’s in Jermyn Street
  • Jermyn Street Theatre

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