Kim Criswell and Wayne Marshall performed A Celebration of the American Broadway Songbook at the Cadogan Hall, London.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
The incomparable duo of singer Kim Criswell and pianist Wayne Marshall gave their first London concert in a decade before a packed house at London’s Cadogan Hall as part of Cadogan Swings!
Their theme was the Broadway songbook and wisely they homed in on four of its principal figures: Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Kurt Weill.
In her entertaining links between numbers, Criswell pointed out that of these four, the wealthy, Yale-educated Porter was the odd one out, the others sharing their Jewish roots and modest upbringings. But as this programme unfolded, it was clear that Porter was an outsider musically speaking too, for he was the only one of the four who never composed an opera or anything akin to it.
So the Criswell-Marshall plan allowed the former to not only perform showstoppers like ‘I Got Rhythm’, but to exhibit her operatic credentials too. In one of several self-deprecating moments, Criswell described her decision to include ‘Island Magic’, a vocal tour-de-force from Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, as “bonkers”, only to take full rein of the number and bring the house down on the first half of their programme.
She was at her considerable best in that first half, the voice light and agile on top. Her verse to ‘The Man I Love’ drew us expressively into the song. The grander refrain never lost its intimacy, as when she asked the question “who would, would you?” – adding a tiny hand gesture.
Pianist Marshall exhibited his prowess as a master of improvisation in two extravagant paraphrases on Porgy and Bess and Candide. Criswell swore that Marshall treated them in a different fashion each time she’d heard him play them, thus living up to her funny description of him as ‘a wild thing’! Of course Marshall swings too, as his turn on ‘A Foggy Day’ testified. Always attentive to his partner, he inhabited the idiom of these numbers as though they were second nature to him.
It was clear too that both artists had given much thought to their programme. Songs were coupled through location, Porter in Paris, ageing – with a knowing wink from the singer to the senior audience – and good girls wanting affairs with bad guys, the legend of ‘The Lorelei’.
Also welcome were the songs with seldom heard lines including, from ‘September Song’, “I’ve lost a tooth and I walk a little lame’, as well as those off the beaten track like the Hobo’s song from Weill’s Love Life (lyric by Alan Jay Lerner) and Porter’s ‘You Don’t Know Parree’, whose climax was given the full operatic treatment by the pair.
In this cornucopia of song, a gentler message was transmitted through the opening number, Bernstein’s ‘Dream With Me’, as well as his ‘A Quiet Girl’, a song we learnt he’d composed for his daughter Jamie, which later found its way into Wonderful Town.
Their finale was a wacky pairing of ‘So in Love’ from Kiss Me, Kate, a Shakespearean heroine whom in Criswell’s view boarders on the masochistic, with the ‘Revolutionary Etude’ by Chopin, a minor key tirade written in response to the fall of Warsaw to Russian troops.
Two encores including ‘I Got Rhythm’, where Criswell followed Merman’s rendition by holding a long note over the refrain of 16 bars, sent us out into the night grateful for the generous proportions of the programme and admiration for the unflagging spirits of these two unique artists.
* Anna-Jane Casey, with special guest Joe Stilgoe, will appear as part of the Cadogan Swings! series on Saturday 11 April.