Son of actor Lionel Jeffries (Camelot, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, director of The Railway Children) and actress Eileen Walsh, Ty grew up surrounded by artists of every genre (Fred Astaire and Danny La Rue were family friends), and steeped in the music of Gershwin, Porter et al. Watching double-bills of films on television with female icons such as Peggy Lee and Judy Garland, he was not only in awe of them, but absorbed their styles.
The performer experienced success relatively early, landing his first publishing contract at the age of 14, and later studied at the Purcell School of Music. Then, things plateaued. There were no big hits, and like many a cabaret artist, Ty earned his living singing in restaurants and hotels.
The birth of Miss Hope Springs took place just three years ago, first launched at the Brighton Fringe where Ty won Best Cabaret Award. It took the patronage, and faith, of restaurateur Jeremy King to give him the platform at the Crazy Coqs (at London’s Brasserie Zedel) to really develop both the character and act.
It is difficult to define the show, as to call it ‘drag’ is to mislead, and diminish it. Miss Hope Springs is a whole persona, who just happens to be female, developed as a vehicle through which the songs originate and are developed. She has a back story, family, and is a flamboyant old school Las Vegas style trouper seeking success, love and happiness – echoing Jeffries’ own journey, though larger than life and with more edge.
The show features neither covers nor lip-synch, in fact every song is penned by Jeffries himself in styles ranging from pop to swing and Latin. Part of what is remarkable about this artist is the sheer volume of original material he is able to produce.
Opening with lots of razzmatazz – Dusty Springfield-esque glamorous blonde wig, eyelashes, sparkly costume – the atmosphere is set for the evening. Rather than relying on the use of ‘tricks’ and sharp put-downs of difficult audience members, Miss Hope Springs remains quite soft-spoken and respectful and several of the songs reflect this more sensitive side, not least two ballads – ‘She’s His World’ on unrequited love, and the affecting ‘Carnival’ on loneliness and loss of identity. Other standout numbers are ‘Girl in a Million’ and ‘Funny How things Work Out’.
Every three to four months there is a change of programme, and the most recent is a Latin show. Throughout August, a different guest artist appeared each week including David Benson (appearing in One Man, Two Guvnors at Theatre Royal Haymarket). Benson made a surprise entrance in Act I, before joining Jeffries again in Act II, singing a fun vaudeville number written especially for him, complete with straw boater and plenty of showmanship.
The songs are not simply amusing ditties, though some are, but musically sophisticated pieces with good structure and carefully worked into the arc of the programme. The jokes are well-timed, and the music is appropriately sung and not over-produced for the genre.
Jeffries accompanies himself on piano with skill, as well as being ably backed by Nigel Thomas on bass and Mark Aliss on percussion.
Over the months Jeffries has held this residency, the show has built up and sustained a loyal audience with houses regularly selling out, and with repeat audiences who are starting to know the songs well enough to sing them.
The Miss Hope Springs character and show are growing both artistically and in popularity. Listening to the CD recorded some time ago, before the current show was developed, the growth in artistry and sophistication becomes particularly evident, well-balanced and entertaining though the CD is. The success of the whole act is well deserved.
* In addition to her regular Sunday performances, Miss Hope Springs presents The Music of My Life, a show specially devised for the London Festival of Cabaret on 27 October and 3 and 10 November.