Gary Williams With Harry the Piano

Gary Williams

Review of cabaret artist Gary Williams accompanied by Harry the Piano at The Crazy Coqs. Read about his unusual style of programming for his Frank Sinatra tribute.

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“…interesting to see a performer kept on his toes…Gary’s artistry is in his rendition of ballads”

The programme for crooner Gary Williams and accompanist Harry the Piano was an unusual evening for The Crazy Coqs. Gary gave us a tribute to Frank Sinatra, but instead of an hour of songs and anecdote, Gary gave us an initial set of about 35 minutes and then got the audience to fill in request forms, which were collected during an interval and a second set put together in that short time.

Also unusual for this venue was his introduction. Rather than Ruth Leon or another member of The Crazy Coqs staff telling us a little about him and bringing him on stage, LBC broadcaster Anthony Davis provided a comic improvisational introduction to the two artists, which led to Harry making his appearance first playing a medley with great virtuosity.

Gary’s eventual arrival was begun with ‘Lady is a Tramp’, very smoothly delivered and immediately we see his years of polish and experience. He seguèd straight into ‘All of Me’ before introducing himself and welcoming the audience in several different languages, pointing out he is simply a boy from Grimsby.

This is very much a cruise –ship programme, moving swiftly from one song to another, none sung in entirety, and engaging with the audience at many opportunities. He asks how many years people have been married, judging by applause level the most after a certain year, and uses the date to choose a song from the sheet by and so on. He is personable, charming and we warm to him quickly. There is nothing over-sincere about this man – he comes over as genuine and the danger of this act becoming cringe-worthy is thus avoided.

His is not a big voice, but finely honed and assured and his patter easy. Harry’s personality and playing also added greatly to the atmosphere.

The second part of the evening is brave in that there is little chance to craft or shape the programme here, nor would it have been possible for the two artists to have rehearsed all the possibilities. He and Harry subtly signalled to each other through chords and vamps, whilst listening to each other as well as engaging in chat to the audience. Certain favourites came up as expected, such as ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘Fly Me To the Moon, but what was lovely was the inclusion of two relatively unknown ballads ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘The Wee Small Hours’. They had decided to programme these two numbers together with a seemless join, which was not something one might have expected under the circumstances. He also gave those who requested certain songs the choice of style they wanted to hear them in, be they swing, Latin and so on.

It is certainly interesting to see a performer kept on his toes in this way and demonstrates a high level of skill and knowledge, but where one really catches a glimpse of Gary’s artistry is in his rendition of ballads. Immediately, one can sense a depth of feeling and expression in these slower numbers, and I regretted not being able to hear the full versions.

I hope one day to hear him sing a well put together programme of work interpreting songs for lyric alone, rather than restricting himself to mostly upbeat crowd-pleasers, which the current show demands. This is a sensitive performer who demonstrates, even in the snippets of songs he is able to give us in the time-frame available, an ability to move an audience as well as amuse.

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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