Lauren Van Kempen and Broadway Melody: American Songbook Series at the Auguste Théatre, Paris.
The new temple of American musical theatre in Paris seems to be the Auguste Théatre, which has been presenting a monthly American songbook series, beginning earlier this year with a Rodgers and Hammerstein evening, followed by a Gershwin soirée in April and the last of the season early in May, paying tribute to Leonard Bernstein.
Mathieu Serradell, assistant musical director for Sister Act, Beauty and the Beast, and Dance of the Vampires at Théatre Mogador, put his great talent to good use here both as pianist and musical director for the project. He also arranged some brilliant medleys, including ‘An American Guide to Musical Theatre’, and devised Lauren Van Kempen’s cabaret, for which he also played piano.
A resident of Paris for five years know, Kempen comes from a musical family in Seattle and she herself plays the cello, as brilliantly demonstrated in her rendition of ‘Later’ from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Her phenomenal soprano voice is reminiscent of Kristin Chenoweth, particularly in her show-stopping version of ‘The Girl In 14G’ as well as ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ from Candide, with which she opened her solo concert (it also featured in the Bernstein evening).
But Kempen has a distinctive personality of her own and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour too, especially in her French operetta tribute ‘Dans les jardins de l’Alhambra’, when she actually threw some cheese at the audience! Her patter was impeccable as well and her childhood anecdotes always funny, particularly when she told of her obsession with being The Little Mermaid‘s big sister, followed by a hilarious version of ‘Part of Your World’.
The Gershwin Songbook programme, aside from Kempen, featured American born-and-raised Scott Emerson, who was featured in Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park, and Into the Woods as Cinderella’s father at Châtelet. He shone particularly in ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’ and a ‘Blah Blah Blah’ duet with Kempen.
Dalia Constantin, star of the touring musical Bons Baisers de Broadway and previously seen as Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods and as Babette in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, brought her vocal and tap dancing talents to ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’, choreographed by Victor Cuno. And the versatile Emmanuel Suarez, leading player in Avenue Q at Bobino and recently seen in Ordinary Days at Comédie Nation, closed the show with ‘I Can’t Be Bothered Now’ from Crazy For You/A Damsel in Distress.
The Bernstein Songbook programme, in addition to Kempen and Emerson, featured soprano extraordinaire Christine Buffle, who besides playing the Baker’s Wife in Woods, starred in The King and I last spring, and Franco-American Maxime de Toledo, who featured in Camelot, both at the Goodspeed Opera House and The Shubert in Boston, and as Turpin in Sweeney at Châtelet. The selection was impeccable, with the West Side Story medley being the biggest hit among the enthusiastic audience and the ‘Wrong Note Rag’ ended the evening as well as the season with a bang.
Both evenings benefited from the commentary of Broadway historians Patrick Niedo and Jean-Luc Jelery who wrote the book Musical in 1985. The series is bound to reprise next season at Auguste Théatre, celebrating other geniuses of the Great American Songbook.