Alexandra Silber continues in cabaret at Crazy Coqs, London, until 5 September.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Just now and again someone special comes along who is forever bookmarked in your Favourites and you never let them go.
Streisand was like that for me in the 1960s with her first, numbingly wonderful album, Judy Collins opened my eyes to Sondheim when she made a hit out of ‘Send in the Clowns’ in the 1970s, Ann Hampton Callaway’s soaring voice and beautiful songwriting – Amanda McBroom’s too – gave me something wondrous for the 1990s.
I have a feeling the American actress/singer Alexandra Silber, who thrillingly opens the new season at London’s lovely Crazy Coqs, will have a similar effect. She combines a stunning, full-throttle soprano voice with a bubbly, infectious, almost puppy-like enthusiasm for life that defies you not to fall in love with her.
Not that she’s a newcomer but this was the first time I had seen her as I missed the trilogy of West End shows, The Woman in White, Fiddler On the Roof and Carousel, that jump-started her career between 2005 and 2009 after being ‘discovered’ at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and recommended to Lloyd Webber.
Silber left London when Carousel ended disappointingly early and a four-year relationship with The Woman in White and Fiddler co-star Damian Humbley – “my first adult love” – petered out. It was a difficult time and she retreated first to Siberia, then to New York, where she quickly got a part in Master Class and never looked back.
This is her UK cabaret debut (although she is a veteran of the genre, having performed at Feinstein’s and 54 Below in Manhattan) and she has a special guest on each of the five nights she is here.
As luck would have it, it was her old love Humbley the night I went, the ‘Thunder From Down Under’, with whom, she told us, she had acted opposite more than 800 times in The Woman in White and Fiddler On the Roof. This was the first time they had duetted since their split in 2009, so to hear them reprise ‘I Believe My Heart’, the hit ballad David Zippel wrote for the former show, was poignant indeed.
Silber looked near to tears as she gazed into Humbley’s eyes and there was a lump in the throat of a few in the audience as well. A piece of cabaret magic unique to Wednesday as composer Howard Goodall was her opening-night guest – Silber starred in his Love Story when it launched in Philadelphia – and other friends Julie Atherton, Simon Bailey and Gina Beck will be bringing their own gifts to the party.
The Goodall composition from Love Story called ‘Nocturnes’, about the musical and literary tastes parents invest in their children, was beautifully achieved without the author by her side on Wednesday, but with her musical director Michael Haslam and Steve Rossell on piano and bass in sympathetic support.
In a most unusual and eclectic collection of songs, Silber shows remarkable taste, versatility and sheer depth of musical knowledge that makes quite a change from the standard material offered by many cabaret artists today.
Silber’s collection ranges from a little-known early Jerome Kern number ‘The Land Where the Good Songs Go’ and two Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson compositions – ‘September Song’ (in memory of her late father whose early death when she was 18 was the spur behind her getaway from Michigan to Glasgow) and ‘Lost in the Stars’ –to Randy Rogel’s ‘Yakko’s World’, a list song naming all the countries (as of 1993) to the tune of ‘Mexican Hat Dance’, and the Fiddler On the Roof curio ‘Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine’, axed from the original show because the audience didn’t warm to it.
She reveals her naughty side with a saucy version of lyricist Buddy DeSylva and George Gershwin’s ‘Do It Again’ and Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Where Or When’ (from Babes in Arms), a breath of Scottish air (or at least how Lerner and Loewe imagine it in Brigadoon) with ‘Waitin’ For My Dearie’, celebrating her time at the Royal Conservatoire, and her “favourite song in all the world”, ‘Will He Like Me?’ from She Loves Me (also written by Fiddler creators Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick).
The piece de resistance for many is the choice of a man’s song, ‘Maria’ from West Side Story – her own Maria in a full concert recording by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra was Grammy-nominated last year – that almost took the roof off.
All this, plus a fun and funny musical quiz with suitably kitsch prizes (Brookside DVD!) and Humbley’s reminder that nobody ever unravelled Sondheim’s absurdly complicated ‘Franklin Shepard Inc.’ showstopper from Merrily We Roll Along better than he did. What an evening to start September. I doubt there will be anything classier any time soon.
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – American actress Alexandra Silber back in the UK making her cabaret bow at Crazy Coqs