The American Songbook in London – Maude Maggart Sings Irving Berlin

Maude Maggart sings Irving Berlin

Maude Maggart with Lanny Meyers (piano)

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 20 February, 2007
Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1

‘The Great American Songbook’ is no stranger to Maude Maggart, a singer whose career has been promoted by fellow cabaret artists Andrea Marcovicci and Michael Feinstein. Born in New York into a theatrical family – her parents are actors, her grandmother was in the chorus of George White’s “Scandals” in the 1920s – Maude began her cabaret work in Los Angeles about six years ago and has garnered nothing but praise ever since. Prone to singing the theatre songs of Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein, the Gershwins and Jerome Kern, Maude is not above including Joan Baez in her set and she has been compared to Kathryn Grayson, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Helen Morgan and Libby Holman. There is a touch of the ‘torch song’ in her voice, but there is also an unspoiled, natural grace about her vocal delivery – no gimmicks, no outlandish fireworks, just beautiful interpretations of classic American songs, perfectly enunciated and delivered as good as new.

Maude Maggart could hardly choose a better songwriter than Irving Berlin. When asked what place Irving Berlin had in American music, Jerome Kern, no less, replied: “Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.” Born in Siberia, he went to the US aged four when his parents fled Russia to escape the pogroms. Unable to speak English, he nevertheless became a street and saloon singer, which led to a job as song-plugger. While still a singing waiter, he decided to teach himself to play the piano and began to write his own songs. Maude Maggart includes Berlin’s first song in her programme, namely ‘Marie from sunny Italy’ which he wrote with Michael Nicholson. Later he wrote all the lyrics and music, including songs in Yiddish, which found favour with Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice – ‘Yiddishe Nightingale’ is a particularly cute song. However, it is the perennially popular songs – some 1,200 of them – for which Berlin is chiefly remembered, such as ‘Say it with music’, ‘Blue Skies’, ‘Shaking the Blues away’, ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’, ‘Cheek to cheek’, ‘Let’s face the music and dance’, and many hundreds more. Why a Russian émigré should be able to capture so wonderfully well the American song idiom and also appeal to an audience world-wide is one of the mysteries of the age.

In her set Maude Maggart takes the early songs up to 1925, even though with this wealth of material she could do a different show every night of the six-day run and yet hardly skim the surface. The rare gems include ‘Call me up some rainy afternoon’, ‘Remember’, ‘When I leave the world behind’, ‘You’d be surprised’ and ‘You keep coming back like a song’ as well as the more familiar ‘Alexander’s ragtime band’, ‘I love a piano’, ‘Always’, ‘A pretty girl is like a melody’ (the anthem of the follies shows), ‘What’ll I do?’ and ‘The song is ended but the melody lingers on’. These are such perfect words and music, poetic reminders of what our emotions are, that it s no wonder that Berlin’s songs are evergreen favourites.

In Maude Maggart he also has the perfect interpreter, a superb artist who just lets the songs speak – or sing – for themselves; and they go straight to the heart. Host Jeff Harnar introduces the evening with more Berlin numbers and joins Maude for a couple of duets. Next week it’s Jeff on his own and Cole Porter. Don’t miss!

  • “The American Songbook in London” at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1
  • Telephone: 020-7287 2875
  • 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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