Jonathan Baz review

Cabaret Secrets is a well written handbook to any performer that is contemplating the follow spot, a high stool and maybe that modest band (though more likely a pianist) in accompaniment, as they climb down from the safely scripted magic of a show and engage with an audience in this most challenging but intimate of arenas.

Gary Williams evidently knows his craft and he engagingly opens the book with an anecdotal reference to how, when performing before the Prince of Wales and before that gig commenced, he reflected back upon his journey from playing in Scunthorpe clubs, to reaching the carpeted splendour of Buckingham Palace .

His recollection of the choice epithets flung at him by that demanding Northern crowd early in his career when they discovered he had no UB40 numbers amongst his set list, is a welcoming way in to the book. And in that last sentence is the success of this publication. Williams establishes a bond with the reader that makes you want to read of his travels and learn from the experience he imparts. And that skill, as he explains, is also what makes for good cabaret.

An accomplished global artist with a respectable string of cruise residencies to his name, Williams for some time played Frank Sinatra in the Rat Pack show and his familiarity with the Great Song Books (not just American) is unquestioned. This book will not teach a performer how to sing nor learn their lyrics. Rather, it sets out principles by which someone, especially a newcomer, can find their way amongst this daunting world. A world in which the audience expect the fourth wall to be torn down and where they want a glimpse of the real person behind the performer.

As well as notes on patter and repartee, Williams offers guidance on basic vocal hygiene and maintenance (minimal alcohol consumption is a given ) and he peppers the book with with frequent references both to his own experiences and also his takes on having sat in the audience to watch others perform. I don’t always agree with Williams. He talks of Lorna Luft’s ability to hit the spots in a song that impressed him so much he returned the next day. When I saw Luft, it was more her persona and chat that held me captivated and though whilst I found her voice less than spectacular, I could have listened to her all night.

Spread across 20 chapters, the book makes for a useful guide. The chapter headings are clear and as well as a glossary (vital for a beginner, as starting out you may not only not know what a gobo or a mac are, you maybe also be too embarrassed to ask) there are several detailed critiques of big-names’ cabaret performances, that make for fascinating reading. My one complaint – no index. Whilst print-runs are expensive, if an on-line reprint of Cabaret Secrets can come out soon, fully indexed, then this accessibly written book will have the potential to evolve from being “informative” to becoming “indispensable”.

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