Maria Kesselman performed at the Crazy Coqs, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Although she says she’s still “feeling her way” as a cabaret performer, Maria Kesselman’s CV suggests she’s no newcomer to the genre and an easy listening evening in her delightful company on her one-night-only Crazy Coqs debut was not exactly a hardship.
In the original cast of Phantom back in 1986 – she played the princess – this classically-trained soprano has since sung Christine in that same show and Eliza in My Fair Lady, as well as Musetta in La Boheme. And danced at Covent Garden. How’s that for versatility!
Last month this much-travelled lady put together a similar set for her Pheasantry bow and here she was again looking a million dollars, first in a flame-coloured art-deco-ish outfit that matched her surroundings, then a slinky black job which accentuated exquisite arm movements.
It’s a beautiful, soaring voice too, although one gets carried away by the perfection of it rather than being moved by it in mood material like Sondheim’s ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’ and Amanda McBroom’s intensely personal ‘Errol Flynn’.
The latter must have been difficult to perform with Kesselman having lost both parents within four months of each other. In memory of her mother, she sang Dillie Keane’s ‘Look Mummy, No Hands’ and what a lyricist Keane is, whether in hilarious or reflective mode.
As with many singers more used to the concert platform or stage, Kesselman is more comfortable with what she does best, interpreting songs, than in the bits in between, the anecdotes and repartee.
She is not a natural storyteller, although we did learn about her six canines, most plucked from visits to Battersea Dogs Home, and her treasured correspondence with Deanna Durbin, with whose ‘Russian Medley’ (from the actress’ 1943 movie His Butler’s Sister) Kesselman had her audience clapping along in a rousing finale.
A light, skittish touch came with American humorist Tom Lehrer’s innuendo-laden ‘I Got It From Agnes’ (apparently too wicked to be risked on his albums) and, as contrast, Brel’s dramatic ‘If You Go Away’ gave full scope to her acting talents.
The artist also demonstrated her dance expertise in an Argentine tango (with smouldering partner), a Len Goodman ’S-E-V-E-N’ at the very least, and gave us a taste of opera for her encore, ‘The Drinking Song’ from La Traviata.
With songs in French, Italian and Spanish, all with perfect diction and clarity, this was a cosmopolitan, well-chosen programme which mixed the familiar with the unusual, the soulful with the witty.
Only once did Kesselman hit a jarring note and that was with Irving Berlin’s ‘I Love a Piano’ where her top notes overpowered the small room. Less is more, vocally speaking, at Crazy Coqs.
Altogether a likeable evening, with the immaculate James Church on piano, and a good-value one too with 24 songs – not a dud among them.