Gary Williams performed A Swingin’ Christmas at Live at Zedel, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Singer Gary Williams is a much-loved performer who moves between West End theatre, concert hall and ocean liner with consummate ease.
Like many of the eminent stars he names in the course of his Christmas swing-a-long, I suspect he enjoys the smaller venue as much as a grander one where his eye can catch his audience at closer proximity as he addresses and encourages them to sing-a-long to some familiar Christmas tunes.
Not that his audience required much goading. With or without the song sheet, all were in hearty voice and on their feet as ‘five golden rings’ from his grand finale, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, rang out, a punter cueing in each verse by number.
Williams references pop icons past and present and the one of Dean Martin leads to a medley of his hits, with the singer recalling his season a few years back in The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas at the Adelphi Theatre.
We are also treated to a fervent account of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’, the joyful ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’, another Crosby favourite, and of course ‘White Christmas’, written by Irving Berlin, apparently in the heat of the Nevada desert. That goes someway to explaining the seldom heard verse that Williams includes: “The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway/There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills LA/But it’s December the twenty-fourth, and I’m longing to be up north…”
Another novelty are some verses added to ‘A Whole New World’ from Disney’s Aladdin that Williams heard in a performance of the show following the Brexit vote! He also gives an expressive interpretation of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ that shines with the best.
On these occasions the pianist plays a crucial role in the success of the evening and Matthew Regan is no exception to that rule. Swinging lightly through such favouritres as ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and ‘Isn’t This a Lovely Day?’, with a neat instrumental break from him, there is a happy camaraderie manifest between the artists as Santa Claus hats are donned and Regan’s solemn countenance breaks into sunshine.
At the end of a programme that runs for nearly 90 minutes, Williams returns to the stage, as dapper as ever, with an encore, ‘When a Child is Born’, introduced in an unexpected and more serious vein, alluding to our troubled planet. His message is timely and, like the man himself, sincere in its intent.