Liz Robertson Sings Her Favourite Songs at The Crazy Coqs

Liz Robertson Sings Her Favourite Songs
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner, David Baker, Sheldon Harnick, Cole Porter, Charles Strouse, Richard Rodgers, Dennis King, Dick Vosburgh, Peter Wildeblood, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, Noël Coward, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, P. G. Wodehouse, Gretchen Cryer, Nancy Ford, Sammy Fain, and Irving Kahal

Liz Robertson (singer) & Chris Walker (pianist)

Reviewed by: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 24 April, 2013
Venue: The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly Circus, London

Liz Robertson. Photograph: Marcus BevilacquaA show-business veteran, who danced at the Savoy at the age of sixteen, Liz Robertson has a fine voice for musical-comedy. Productions in which she starred include a London revival of My Fair Lady, a US tour of The King and I, and the Broadway musical Dance a Little Closer. She created the role of the sinister Madame Giry in The Phantom of the Opera and its sequel Love Never Dies, giving an aptly chilling portrayal in Gale Sondergaard mode. She pokes mischievous fun at the role, noting that she had no song to sing in either show, which prompted friends to call her ’Miss Recitative’.

Her programme at The Crazy Coqs is beautifully conceived – gems by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Burton Lane and, inevitably, lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, to whom she was married. (Describing Lerner as a “Shakespeare” of songwriters, she tells an illuminating story about his relentless quest for the right word or phrase.) Surprisingly, there is only one song from My Fair Lady, and nothing from Paint Your Wagon or Camelot, which makes one wonder if she has something against Frederick Loewe, who composed those scores with Lerner. It is probable that there were greener pastures to reap to showcase Lerner, with two splendid numbers apiece from Royal Wedding and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, three songs from Dance a Little Closer, plus the raunchily despairing lament, ‘Why him?’ from Carmelina.

The beautiful ballad ‘Bill’ could be a cousin of ‘Why him?‘, and other non-Lerner songs include ‘Surrey with the fringe on top’ (a seductive, gently rocking arrangement), Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s ‘Witchcraft’, Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Putting it together’ (with the lyrics written by Sondheim for Streisand’s Broadway album) and four Cole Porter gems including the wistful ‘You don’t know Paree’ and his swinging paean to popular music, ‘Red, hot and blue’. There is a generous sprinkling of humour – she tells a hilarious tale of auditioning for the US tour of the Cy Coleman show, I Love My Wife, and has amusing anecdotes about Fred Astaire, Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis Jr.

Often making full use of the small stage for some exuberant dance steps, she gives lively renditions of such comedy classics as Noël Coward’s ‘Nina’, the David Baker-Sheldon Harnick ‘Someone is sending me flowers’, and a little-known pastiche of ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning’ composed by Dennis King and Dick Vosburgh as a dramatic Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht litany of doom and despair.

Robertson switches with ease between styles, always with effect, and one has particular admiration for her ‘less is more’ approach to ballads. Her delicate phrasing and barely suppressed emotion give heartbreaking potency to such peerless creations as Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s ‘Old friend’, Lerner and Lane’s ’Too late now’, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s ’Tell me on a Sunday’ and Lerner and Charles Strouse’s ’Dance a little closer’. The last is the title tune from a musical starring Robertson that opened and closed the same night – “It’s known now as Close a Little Faster”. Whatever the quality of the show – an attempt to make a musical of Robert Sherwood’s celebrated anti-war play, Idiot’s Delight – its title tune is scrumptious, and she also sings her big solo ‘Another life’ in which the heroine declares her determination to escape poverty, a genuine Broadway showstopper.

She also gives a wry self-mocking introduction to Dennis King and Peter Wildeblood’s hymn to longevity, ‘The lady’s still around’. Hopefully this lady stays around for many seasons to come. Throughout, the brilliant piano-playing of Chris Walker provides sterling back-up – he even provides a brief vocal interjection for the comedy number, ‘How could you believe me when I said I loved you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life?’

  • Liz Robertson is at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 until Saturday 27 April 2013
  • Bookings 020 7734 4888

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