That’s Life – Barb Jungr and John McDaniel at Crazy Coqs, London until 2 July.
Rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The much-travelled Barb Jungr takes the Crazy Coqs into its final month with her unique spin on classic pop before the lovely Piccadilly nightspot changes its name (to Tonight at Zedel), management and scope.
She is one of a very small group of British cabaret artists whose work is admired all over the world and is only just back from starring at the Adelaide Festival with the Bob Dylan/Leonard Cohen collection we so enjoyed in London last year.
With her is the noted Broadway arranger John McDaniel, a formidable singer himself and piano wizard, and it is very much a 50-50 collaboration.
Indeed, McDaniel’s two solos, a terrific Boy George song from the musical Taboo called ‘Stranger in This World’ and “the much underrated” George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ are among the evening’s highlights.
It’s very much a game of two halves, as they say in football parlance: the first opens with the Sinatra hit from half a century ago ‘That’s Life’ and closes with Billy Joel’s punchy ‘My Life’; the second set is a potted version of The Beatles show they did at 54 Below in New York last year.
It’s not all familiar stuff, though. There’s a rare sighting of Jungr doing Sondheim, a beautiful treatment of the little-known ‘What Can You Lose?’, one of five songs he wrote for the 1990 movie Dick Tracy and sung by Madonna with Mandy Patinkin in the film.
Another breakout from pop mode comes with the potent Kurt Weill number ‘I’m a Stranger Here Myself’, written with lyricist Ogden Nash for the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus. Jungr gives this the full works without losing an ounce of clarity.
She is very much a visual performer, using hands and body to support voice, and what a voice it is, harsh and powerful when required but with an innate sweetness that later allows the simplicity of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ to speak for itself.
And she has the chummy patter to go with it, hilarious tales like the night she was in an audience of about ten at the Camden Jazz Cafe and soul legend Percy Sledge belted out ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ as if he was at the Royal Albert Hall, talking and waving to non-existent people.
The second half is all Beatles, topped and tailed by two drug-related compositions, ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ and ‘Come Together’ – Jungr even wielding a mean harmonica on the latter, still a rocker at heart.
She makes a new song of ‘Step Inside Love’ which Paul McCartney of course wrote for Cilla Black. Jungr’s version is something else and the pair’s duet on ‘Imagine’ is perfectly pitched. It’s rare to see two great performers at such perfect ease with each other.