Anne Reid and Stefan Bednarczyk – Just in Time – Crazy Coqs, London continues until 2 May.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
The third London Festival of Cabaret – Celebrating Song – opens at the Crazy Coqs with a long overdue tribute to the writing skills of American lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Although their names may not be household ones, their prolific output of lyrics, screenplays for much-loved and successful Hollywood musicals and books for hit Broadway shows will certainly be known.
During their 50-year working partnership – the longest in theatrical history – they collaborated with such giants as Leonard Bernstein and Jule Styne, putting words to their melodies. Think ‘New York, New York’, ‘The Party’s Over’, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘On the Town’ and ‘Bells Are Ringing’.
I have long held a wish that their talents would be showcased in an evening such as this one and now that wish has been fulfilled thanks to Reid and Bednarczyk.
And what a pair these two artists make as they wrap song after song around biographical narrative, adding their personal touch to many stories and anecdotes. Watch out for a wicked one credited to stage and screen actress Coral Browne. They work superbly together with an easy style, sharing the narration and vocals, and bouncing comedy off each other.
Intensive research and great thought have been given to putting the evening’s programme together. The performers have chosen numbers that are familiar along with lesser-known material from early revue and cabaret work. The latter includes some real witty gems – ‘The Reader’s Digest’ condenses the plot of well-known books and films to three lines and ‘A Man of Vision’ proves to be topical, dealing with capital gains and the rise and fall of financial pyramids – here Bednarczyk is at his maniacal best. He also relishes the chance to take on the role of Captain Hook and later is wickedly funny as a leading man concerned with his looks in ‘My Fortune is in My Face’.
Not to be outdone, Reid takes on and triumphantly beats the challenge of the tongue-twisting ‘If You Hadn’t, But You Did’. This number fully demonstrates the lyricists’ word skills as they come up with a multitude of rhymes for the word ‘if’. Together they are hilarious in ‘Catch Our Act At the Met’ where vaudeville invades the world of opera.
Reid gets to perform many of the great ballads including ‘Long Before I Knew You’. Her voice manages to capture the necessary fragility and wistfulness. The encore number ‘Make Someone Happy’, a joyful hymn to life and love, provides a fitting conclusion to the evening’s celebration which certainly made one person happy… but I was not alone.