THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Brent Barrett – Night Songs
The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood St, London W1F 7ED
To January 18, 2014
The blurb says "one of the most beautiful voices in contemporary theater" and it ain't lyin'. What singles Brent Barrett out, in this his London cabaret debut, is his pristine voice. No stranger to London, he was Olivier nominated for a barnstorming Kiss Me Kate and also appeared here in Grand Hotel and Wonderful Town.
He doesn't talk much because he doesn't need to, and others should take note. That rich tenor voice which won him all the star parts in the classic Broadway musicals is now, with age, augmented with a velvety baritone. The movie star looks are also still in evidence.
Despite being more used to hitting the back rows of barn-like theaters with his high notes, he is the most relaxed of performers in this small room and he knows instinctively how to pitch this kind of material for an intimate setting. He even managed to transform that awkward dirge Music of the Night so that it sounds almost like a subtle French Art Song. The arrangements and piano accompaniment by his long time collaborator Christopher Denny are top class throughout.
The theme helps. Songs about the night and what happens after dark are perfect for this wonderful 'boite'. He takes us from a perky sundown In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening to a wonderfully limpid Street of Dreams. A highpoint is his take on Some Enchanted Evening. Never an easy song to sing, he has the vocal technique and good taste to keep it simple and the result packs an emotional punch.
He cheerfully reminisces about escaping the small–town Kansas of his youth for the bright lights of Pittsburgh, where he studied at Carnegie–Mellon before hitting the Big Apple and getting his break by being cast in Jerome Robbins' own revival of West Side Story. These were his disco dancing years and he throws us some shapes while delivering an inspired melding of Diane Warren's The Rhythm of the Night with Dietz and Schwartz's old standard You and the Night and the Music.
Thankfully medleys are used sparingly but when they are they're always thoughtful and apt and so never diminish the songs. We get a tender take on Jimmy Webb's folksy The Moon's a Harsh Mistress and we see his comic gifts in a gloriously tart re–wording, by his director Barry Kleinbort, of an old Jule Styne song Who Took Me Home Last Night. All in all – a class act.
Crazy Coqs has begun the New Year with a bang. Following last week's presentation of the gloriously talented newcomer Carole J Bufford and now this, it bodes well for a season which continues to combine New York names such as Liz Callaway with home grown talents such as Frances Ruffelle.