Theatre, Musicals & Concerts – Views & Reviews
The first lady of show business returned to Festival Hall where she last appeared 40 years ago, shortly after the film Cabaret and TV concert Liza With a ‘Z’ were released. The appearance is part of the Southbank Centre’s The Rest is Noise year-long festival inspired by Alex Ross’ book of the same name celebrating the music of the 20th century. The festival is focussing this week on the music of Berlin in the 1920’s and 1930’s, so it was clear from the start we’d be getting plenty of Cabaret.
Before her appearance, a thirty minute support was provided by Clare Teal. I should imagine an artist is equally thrilled and terrified to be asked to support Liza, with a crowd so clearly desperate to see their idol. Although I wasn’t aware of her work before tonight, she won me over quickly with her relaxed but powerful jazz style; a smooth voice and a warm personality. Her upbeat rendition of Cheek to Cheek was particularly impressive, as were Dream A Little Dream of Me and 20 Mile Zone by singer-songwriter Dory Previn (who wrote Come Saturday Morning for Liza). She introduced “the greatest song of the 50’s – with a terrible first verse” which she skimmed over to keep us guessing, teasing us with Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Get Happy and Don’t Cha, before giving a beautiful version of Secret Love. The crowd were clearly enjoying her performance, but “there’s no time for clapping” she said wisely, knowing Liza was backstage and we were all desperate to see her. Nevertheless I’m sure I’m not the only new fan Clare acquired tonight.
After the interval, Liza’s band took their places dressed smartly in white jackets and black ties; Billy Stritch took his place at the piano to applause, but the moment Liza was in sight the crowd took to their feet for an immediate standing ovation. This is quite common for Liza’s concerts – few people have earned so much respect from their devotees that their presence alone is a delight worthy of appreciation.
There were no real surprises in the setlist tonight, but a London crowd who don’t get to see her often would be disappointed if she didn’t reward them with her standards. A few selections from her recent album Confessions were very welcome to me as they suit her current vocal range perfectly.
We’re only days away from her 67th birthday, so it’s not surprising that some of the higher notes aren’t quite as strong as they used to be – in a recent interview with Saga Magazine she admitted “I’m not a very good singer. I just know how to present a song. And honey, I think I’ve been through enough to do it right”. This is precisely the essence of her appeal – her audiences expect to hear New York, New York and Cabaret in every concert even though she’s been performing them for decades, yet each time she delivers them with enough passion and emotion to make them feel new every time. People were still laughing at the jokes in the lyrics, even though many of us have heard them a hundred times before – it’s as if she’s sharing them with us personally for the first time.
There were tender moments, and there were showstopping moments – and although at one point she breathlessly confessed that these days she needs to do more numbers sat in her chair, she still gave enough dramatic hand gestures to bring each song to life. She ended He’s Funny That Way by melting helplessly into the chair, as if she had the passion (and backbone) of a much younger performer. This is what she does – she brings us into each song and makes us believe every word and emotion. A true entertainer in every sense of the word.