REVIEW: Songs In The Key Of Black | Slide, Sydney
Lucy Maunder’s Songs In The Key Of Black is living proof you can have all the right ingredients, superlative talent in every corner, a note-perfect delivery (vocally and in every other sense) and still not quite sparkle.
What this show lacks is a sense of spontaneity. So much so, I was almost hankering for a frog-in-the-throat falter; a lapse of memory; something. Not because I wanted to see anyone fail, but because what was missing was a real connection with the audience.
It was never made. I’m not saying the people at Slide, for Lucy’s one-night-only presentation of her cabaret, left empty-handed, or empty-hearted. After all, Maunder is a fine singer, even if her still-young voice is yet to acquire the kind of really characterful timbre which would enable you to identify it blindfolded. It should be said she’s a good, if not great actor, too; that aspect of her performance is every bit as immaculate as the vocal.
Neil Gooding was directing and ensured everything was nuanced and just so. Daniel Edmonds proved a sensational musical director. I wasn’t quite so enamoured with Nick Christo’s script and I think this was the seed sown that bore the flawless fruit of which I’ve spoken. It was all a little too slick. I wanted it to be personal. And it wasn’t.
That said, the problem isn’t necessarily the show, but it’s fit with this reasonably intimate venue. I don’t know if it was the intention when conceived and developed, but while I can see the production going down a treat in a more ‘theatrical’ context, it’s too impersonal for an upmarket, quite sumptuously-appointed, wining, dining nightspot. Who’s to blame? Maybe noone. As Cole would’ve said, it was just one of those things.
But this show isn’t about Cole, but Irving, the man of a thousand songs (well, 850; not bad for a dirt-poor Russian immigrant). Again, however, I would’ve liked it to be a little more about Lucy, somehow, too; again, that would’ve served to reach out and touch somebody.
Of course, if it was Irving you came to hear, as much as Lucy, you weren’t disappointed, as she packed the numbers in about as densely as the composer himself. So much so, I’m beside myself struggling to remember all the numbers she performed. But some stood out. What’ll I Do has never been one of my favourite Berlin songs. And now I know why. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it performed nearly so well. Typically, it’s with faintly feigned pathos; insincerity; half-hearted banality. It’s too often, in my recollection, a ‘backstop’ song; serially abused, if not murdered. (There are very notable exceptions, of course, and they are particularly numerous, whether one thinks about Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Julie London, Rosemary Clooney, Linda Ronstadt, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra or Bea Arthur, so I’m not sure why I harbour this adverse impression. One of the most intriguing renditions is by Kiwi soprano, Frances Alda, recorded June 12, 1924, red-hot on the heels of its composition the previous year.) But Maunder turns the tables on all that, milking every skerrick of devastation the lyric reflects. She actually sounds as if she’s teetering, about to plunge off the deep end, having had her heart irrevocably split asunder. It’s a moment of creative genius which chimes with the moments in which Berlin must’ve written it. And you thought the romance that was so divine was gone, for good.
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