The American Songbook in London: Maude Maggart

“Good Girl / Bad Girl”

Music and lyrics by A. P. Randolph, R. D. Whichard, Noël Coward, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Mort Schumann, Leon Carr, Joan Baez, George Gershwin, Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Chilton Price, Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart & Stephen Sondheim

Maude Maggart – Singer
Jeff Harnar – Guest Singer & Presenter
Lanny Meyers – Musical Director & Pianist

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 20 February, 2008
Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Last year American singer Maude Maggart made her London debut in the first series of “The American Songbook in London”, singing the songs of Irving Berlin. Reviewing her performance I noted that the basic material presents “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.”

Well, this year the lady has done it again but this time for a cross-section of US composers and lyricists. The result is another evening of pure magic.

This new set of songs is called “Good Girl / Bad Girl” for which Maude has collected together a clutch of disparate numbers, songs mostly by men but written about women either on their best behaviour or caught out being naughty. Maude says: “As for myself, I may be good or bad, but I promise to be polite.”

Well, I have to report that once again Maude is good; in fact she’s more than good, she’s very good, and not at all bad. Was it Mae West who said: “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.”

Maude Maggart is a singer who comes to us via recommendations from 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 corps de ballet of “George White’s Scandals” in the 1920s – Maude began her cabaret work in Los Angeles singing the theatre songs of Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein, the Gershwins and Jerome Kern, although she is not above including Joan Baez in her set. Her voice 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. Nothing is forced or phoney and she seems completely at ease in both singing and addressing the audience. She links the songs with interesting facts about the numbers and the composers but has none of that cheesy chat that some cabaret-artists dish out.

Maude’s grandmother is called upon to act as a sort of yardstick by which women’s goodness or badness can be measured. Granny may have been a showgirl inside but a proper Miss on the outside who never wore outlandish clothes. Ah, but beneath there were the black lace undies!

Maude begins and ends her set with Red Riding Hood, opening with a song that was banned in the 1920s and ’30s, The song asks, “How could Red Riding Hood be so good and still keep the wolf from the door?”. Maude comes to the conclusion that, well, a girl has to live, and so may have to do bad things once in a while just to survive. In Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘The folks who live on the hill’, she is the good girl, the Joan of Darby and Joan who used to be Jack and Jill. In another Rodgers & Hammerstein song, ‘What’s the use of wond’rin?’ from “Carousel”, the girl is left to figure out her would-be boyfriend who may be a rogue but nonetheless…

In Gershwin’s ’Do it again’ she tells him to stop but then she doesn’t really want him to stop but instead would rather he did it all over again. Later she admits ‘I want to be bad’ (in the DeSylva, Brown and Henderson song made famous by bad girl Helen Kane), and in a famous Rodgers & Hammerstein song she owns up to meeting the man of her dreams on ‘Some enchanted evening’, a duet with the American Songbook series presenter Jeff Harnar. Earlier on she was praising her man for being too good for her in the Rodgers & Hart number from “Simple Simon” (“I was a queen to him / Who’s going to make me gay now? / It’s only natural I’m blue / He was too good to be true.”). Finally it’s back to Red Riding Hood for the encore by which time Red has learned her lesson and admits (from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”) that ‘I know things now’.

By now we, the audience, know that it’s a perfect little show of songs by men about women, although Maude does sing songs by women, ‘Love song to a stranger’ by Joan Baez, and ‘You belong to me’, a hit for Jo Stafford in 1952, and a song written by Chilton Price, a music librarian at a Louisville radio station who showed her songs to country musicians Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart and who published them under all three names although they were the sole work of Chilton herself. She had other hits and is still alive at the age of 94.

If the theme gets a little stretched sometimes, it doesn’t matter because Maude, dressed provocatively all in red, puts over the songs with such careful delivery and with such obvious enjoyment that it really doesn’t matter what she sings, as it all turns out so sublimely well aided by Lanny Meyers’s sympathetic accompaniment.

  • The American Songbook in London is at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, W1
  • Maude Maggart continues until 24 February

  • Maude Maggart
  • Karen Akers sings “Simply Styne” 26 February – 2 March
  • Steve Ross presents “To wit: Ross on wry” – 4-9 March
  • Jeff Harnar sings “The 1959 Broadway Songbook” – 11-15 Mar
  • Performances on Tuesday to Saturday @ 7.30 p.m.; matinees Saturday & Sunday at 3 p.m.; tickets £25.00
  • Spotlight Series featuring UK cabaret artists: Helen Hobson – 24 & 25 February; Simon Green sings Noël Coward – 2 & 3 March; Jessica Martin in “Unlimited Engagement” with Brett Kahr – 9 & 10 March: Sundays at 6.30 p.m., Monday at 7.30 p.m.; tickets £20.00
  • Bookings on 020 7287 2875
  • Jermyn Street Theatre
  • American Songbook in London

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