Natalie Douglas is appearing in London once more at the Crazy Coqs with a new show written especially for the occasion. Together with her Musical Director Mark Hartman, of Broadway’s Avenue Q & Sondheim on Sondheim, have created a program of song honouring the extraordinary talents of Sammy Davis, Jr., Nat “King” Cole, Stevie Wonder & Joe Williams.
Opening with a sultry version of For Once In my Life, she sets the tone for the evening – subtle, from the heart and sophisticated. We are treated to works from amongst others Billy Strayhorn, Stevie Wonder, and Irving Gordon, sprinkled with histories of the songs themselves, Natalie’s personal relationship to them and how her parents’ eclectic tastes shaped her knowledge and appreciation of this collection.
I have written several times about Natalie Douglas, and each show she does is exemplary, not only of the particular genre or artist she is paying tribute to, but in terms of artistry. She has the voice to raise the roof off any venue, but this is never used gratuitously or simply to display her prowess. There is always a narrative or artistic choice behind its employment.
This show is no exception. One example is her rendition of Mr Bojangles. Understated for the most part, and all the more powerful for it, one could feel the collective emotion of the audience welling up.
Natalie is from a political family, is comfortable with the topic without bombast, always with a dash of humour, and helps the contemporary audience appreciate the role a particular song may have played in American history. Searingly, she used Stevie Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – his attack on Nixon and Watergate – to make her own commentary on Donald Trump and the current election.
Interestingly, two songs that she treated us to, Gonna Build a Mountain and Once in a Lifetime came from British artists Leslie Bicusse and Anthony Newley. Bricusse is an English composer, lyricist, and playwright, most prominently working in musicals and film theme songs, and Newley was the English actor, singer and songwriter he very often collaborated with, most notably on Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.
She saved the best till last, however. Ol Man River was her encore, with sublime accompaniment by Mark Hartman, and brought the house down.