Keepers of the Keys: Eric Yves Garcia at The Pheasantry, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
It was a great shame to find so many empty tables for the Pheasantry debut of one of Manhattan cabaret’’s most-admired singer-pianists, and with only a couple of dozen watching, it was difficult for Eric Yves Garcia to create much of a buzz at the King’s Road nightspot.
This is his second visit to London – he played the Crazy Coqs two years ago – and he brings with him a show about the great jazz, blues and swing practitioners of the past which first saw the light of day at Feinstein’s 54 Below last November.
Starting with Nat King Cole in his jazzy trio days before he became a solo pop icon, he moves seamlessly on to the prolific Hoagy Carmichael; Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, who scandalised London society in an enduring affair with Prince Philip’s promiscuous aunt Edwina; and Bobby Short, who was offered a two-week shift at the Cafe Carlyle in 1968 and stayed for 35 years, championing the work of black Harlem in the rich white Upper East Side world.
Finally to the pianist who never existed but everyone thinks of whenever ‘As Time Goes By’ is played, Sam from the legendary 1942 movie Casablanca. Who will ever forget Ingrid Bergman’s oft-misquoted exhortation to ‘Play it, Sam’?
In between, plenty of nods to Cole Porter with the naughty ‘Let’s Do It’ – “Folks in Siam do it/Think of Siamese twins” – and ‘I’m a Gigolo’ with those wonderful lines “As I’m slightly undersexed/You will always find me next/To some dowager/Who’s wealthy/Rather than passionate”.
Garcia is a terrific pianist and if the voice is less memorable – it lacks a little variety and makes too many songs sound similar – fair play for deserting the piano stool for an a cappella treatment of the 1920s Carmichael/Mitchell Parrish classic ‘Stardust’ that captures every subtle nuance.
Porter comes into the narrative through the gargantuan sexual appetite of the charismatic Hutch who met and bedded the great American composer on moving to Paris, before becoming the biggest name on the London club scene in the 1920s and 1930s when his wealth and connections brought him a Rolls-Royce, a mansion in Hampstead, even a racehorse.
Yet the handsome Grenadan still had to use the tradesman’s entrance because of his colour when performing at the Savoy.
Garcia’s immaculately-researched anecdotes about all his subjects made this a civilised and sophisticated evening, and an educational one too.
The Hutch story, interwoven with a medley of his best-known songs, ‘Room 504’, ‘Dinner For One Please, James’ and ‘Just One of Those Things’, is particularly fascinating: fathering seven children with six different wives, unleashing his eye-wateringly impressive sexual tackle at every conceivable opportunity, his lengthy dalliance with the smitten Lady Mountbatten… they were all the talk of the town.
Daily Express owner Lord Beaverbrook ordered Hutch’s name never to appear in any of his publications. Mountbatten himself chose to turn a blind eye, but it was he who paid for Hutch’s sparsely attended funeral long after the scandal finally brought him down.
Garcia ends by copying Short’s musical ploy with his Carlyle audience in his Uptown/East Side medley, among which ‘Slumming On Park Avenue’, ‘Stepping Out’ and ‘Manhattan’ stand out.
He would start with a song everyone knew, follow it with one only the cognoscenti would be familiar with, and wind up with one he hoped would be new to everyone, tourists and regulars alike.
Garcia’s choice for that is ‘Why Don’t We Try Staying At Home?’ – “let us begin to cut out/the folks who merely strut/and talk of nothing but their incomes” – a Porter gem written for, but unused in, the 1929 musical Fifty Million Frenchmen.
Here’s hoping fewer cabaret lovers followed that train of thought for the second night of Garcia’s short visit. He is well worth seeing – and not just because he is, according to ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’, a bit of a dish.