Isabelle Georges performed her show Oh Là Là! at the St James Theatre Studio, London, as part of the London Festival of Cabaret.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The London Festival of Cabaret treated us to the-long awaited London debut of French triple threat Isabelle Georges in the intimate setting of the St James Theatre Studio.
Though she had performed successfully at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for several seasons, and toured extensively in both the UK and Australia following her triumph at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Georges had yet to appear on a London stage.
Starting in Paris with the Victor Cuno tap dance company after training with the man himself, the actress and singer moved to starring roles as Charity Barnum in Barnum (Lyon and Paris) and as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain at the Théâtre du Gymnase in Paris.
However, the turning point of her life and career came when she starred in Maury Yeston’s Titanic at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Belgium, where she met both the Broadway composer – who became her mentor – and her partner both on and offstage, the talented pianist/singer Frederik Steenbrink. The latter joined Georges at the St James as her accompanist and musical director.
After Titanic, Georges concentrated on intimate musicals such as her Judy Garland tribute Une étoile et moi; Padam, Padam and her latest show, Chante (the title song was also reprised on this occasion).
In fact Oh Là Là! could be described as Chante in reverse: whereas the former catered to Broadway show tunes translated into French, the latter celebrates brilliant English adaptations of French songs!
Georges began with the great Charles Aznavour’s ’Je Me Voyais Déja’, followed by several of the composer’s songs such as ‘Le Temps’ and ‘Tu t’laisses aller’, humorously duetting with Steenbrink (both adapted by the late Fred Ebb for Liza Minnelli).
It’s not by chance that Georges channels Minnelli, especially in her delivery of Aznavour’s ‘Mon Amour’ – the song he wrote for Liza about sign language – as she obviously worships her!
Her gamine waif persona also conjures up comparisons with Shirley MacLaine, as well as the equally multi-lingual, talented, but sadly forgotten, international singer Caterina Valente.
Georges’ moving Yiddish version of Brel’s ‘Ne me quitte pas’ is another highlight, as is her interpretation of ‘How Do You Keep the Music Playing?’ (Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman).
The style of jazz played by the excellent quartet was definitely manouche, giving a contemporary Parisian edge to such standards as Charles Trenet’s ‘Que reste-t-il de nos amours’ (‘I Wish You Love’).
Another favourite moment, and one the artist unfortunately does not include in her Paris shows, was the Cole Porter number ‘Si vouis aimez les poitrines’ from Nymph Errant. Georges actually performed in the Chichester Festival Theatre production of the musical.
The down-to-earth artist is next developing a completely original project, due to run throughout the summer in Paris, before she returns to Edinburgh for five special performances of Oh Là Là! in late August.
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