Jeff Harnar performs Does This Song Make Me Look Fat? at the Crazy Coqs, London, until 1 March.
With his dapper charm and New York polish, Jeff Harnar was always a cabaret singer who made the game look easy, but the eye-catchingly named Does This Song Make Me Look Fat? show he brings with him to London this time takes this ever-young 54-year-old to a new level.
We’ve seen plenty of Harnar over the years, at the Jermyn Street Theatre and Pizza On the Park, and you were always guaranteed to learn a bit more about the Great American Songbook and have a good, pleasant, ballady night out.
But this is a sharper Harnar with greater bite to his patter and choice of material, a mix of the comic and the serious, and he is clever from the start, getting his audience immediately onside by adapting Cole Porter’s ‘I’m Throwing a Ball Tonight’ with his own witty references to British institutions such as Graham Norton and the Daily Express.
After 30 years as a pillar of Manhattan cabaret society, there’s not much Harnar doesn’t know in the way of good songs or how to put them across, and any budding performer could do a lot worse than spend an hour and a half in his company to learn how to do it.
Whether it is standards like ‘Lonely Town’, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’ or a medley of 1960s pop songs (in the appropriate falsetto in the case of ‘Wimoweh’) or a wicked parody like Rick Crom’s take on how Oklahoma! would sound in the hands of Sondheim (‘Sunday in the Meadow With Curly’), he is always bang on the money, helped in no small way by Nathan Martin’s brilliance on piano and occasional duet.
It is a brave call for an American to do Noel Coward’s ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On the Stage, Mrs Worthington’ for a London audience but this turns out to be the highspot of the evening with accent, phrasing and pausing for effect absolutely spot-on.
Having started at the age of ten doing TV jingles, this all-round entertainer is totally at home on stage and slick without being smarmy.
He is a modern-day Dean Martin but without the slurring and the alcoholic prop. In fact, he invokes the great crooner more than once with a snatch of ‘Memories Are Made of This’ and a Martin in-his-cups version of ‘The Girl That I Marry’ from Annie Get Your Gun that starts: “The girl that I marry will have to be, a nympho who owns a distillery…”
Sondheim’s Oklahoma! isn’t the only parody, as earlier we hear comedian Dale Gonyea’s hilarious lyric to John Kander and Fred Ebb’s ‘New York, New York’ and Harnar comes back to the great songwriting team with an effortlessly-mixed cocktail of ‘The World Goes ’Round’, made famous by Liza Minnelli, and the Sinatra hit ‘That’s Life’ (by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon).
His love of Cole Porter is ever-present, with a medley of his cleverest songs early in the show, a heavily-applauded ‘Can-Can’ encore, and in between a bit of a rarity in ‘A Little Skipper From Heaven Above’ from the 1936 musical Red Hot and Blue (a show which, Harnar tells us, caused such a conflict over billing between those great egotists Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante that their names had to be criss-crossed across the title).
It’s not every day you get to hear the standards of Porter, Kander & Ebb, Bernstein, Coleman, Coward and Cahn set alongside the comedic genius of Tom Lehrer’s ‘The Elements’ or Stan Freberg’s ‘Tele-Vee-Shun’ and the pop wizardry of the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ and hits from the 1950s and 60s like ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, but the versatile Harnar can do the lot, and superbly. A truly De-Lovely evening.
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