Gary Williams with Harry the Piano – Sinatra Jukebox continues at the Crazy Coqs, London until 9 May, as part of the London Festival of Cabaret.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
Gary Williams returns to the Crazy Coqs to pay tribute to Frank Sinatra in the year that would have seen Ol’ Blue Eyes celebrate his 100th birthday. Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest voices of the 20th century, his legacy burns brighter than ever and still inspires other performers such as Williams.
Proving once again just what a consummate performer he is, Williams pays homage by delivering a sizzling two hours of easy entertainment. He is no slavish imitator of Sinatra but performs in his own style that occasionally has eerie echoes of the great man. The singer also has the talent to put his audience at their ease with his patter which mixes a bit of corn with topicality. He even manages to work in some election jokes.
The format of the show has Williams and Harry, his pianist, being the Jukebox with the patrons requesting the numbers to be sung. Audience members are provided, on arrival, with a listing of 100 songs associated with Sinatra and are required to nominate one that they would like to hear – a bold but risky idea. Quite a few had not been in their repertoire for some time – but they got away with it without any disasters.
In addition, Williams picks on some patrons, asking them for the last two digits of their mobile phone numbers or their birthdays to select other songs at random. Both methods of selection provide a wide spectrum of numbers. While many of the old chestnuts are requested there are many lesser known ones. The most asked for one is ‘Night and Day’ followed by ‘Strangers in the Night’, a song Sinatra apparently hated. Among the rarities was ‘My Buddy’, a beautifully wistful ballad and ‘How Do You Keep the Music Playing’.
Harry the Piano proves to be an ideal accompanist whose playing truly complements the vocals. But he provides more when called upon to fill in time while Williams is sorting out the requests. For ten minutes he plays variations of ‘Anything Goes’ in the style of famous piano composers suggested by the audience – Rachmaninov, Debussy, Scott Joplin and Gershwin hold no fear for him. His talent is further demonstrated when familiar numbers are sung in different requested tempos. ‘Fly Me to Moon’ changes from Swing to Bossa Nova while ‘I Love Paris’ becomes a tango.
I lost count of the numbers that they performed but all were sublime. Personal favourites include ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ with a delightful piano solo, ‘Old Man River’ where sweetness contrasts with power, and a really swinging ‘Mack the Knife’. On the downside, my request for ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’ got overlooked!
Inevitably, the evening concludes with ‘My Way’ – a number that sums up the evening – Williams does it his way.
Happy Birthday, Mr Sinatra!
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