Sinatra Jukebox

Reviewed at Crazy Coqs, London by Helen Theophanous for Cabaret Scenes.

Sinatra would have approved and you could almost believe he was there as Gary Williams and Harry the Piano celebrated his 100th birthday with 100 songs from which the audience selected their favorites. Williams immediately set the tone of the evening, aided by a bravura accompaniment from Harry the Piano, with a witty self-penned lyric to Rodgers & Hart’s “The Lady Is a Tramp,” commenting on the venue and the topical U.K. general election, and immediately had the audience in the palm of his hand. 

He then went swinging straight into “This Can’t Be Love” (Rodgers & Hart) and “All of Me” (Marks/Simons). Clearly these two extraordinary performers were giving us their all.? Following a dazzling ragtime version of “I Love a Piano” (Berlin), Harry invited the audience to suggest songs and then amazed us with “Anything Goes” (Porter)— via Chopin, Mozart, Erroll Garner, Strauss and more, including Amy Winehouse—demonstrating, if there was any doubt, that Williams and Harry shared the stage as equally talented partners.? Having garnered the audience’s selections, Williams began the “Sinatra Jukebox” by effortlessly stringing together three random numbers as Harry instantly arranged them into a perfect medley—a technique that continued so successfully throughout the show.

This show is different every night and, as Williams remarked, could never be boring. Apart from the music, the engaging personalities of these two artists endeared them to us. Williams recounted auditions and personal anecdotes in a very intimate and friendly way, befriending us and breaking down any barrier between him and the audience. (Much of his advice on cabaret performance is to be found in his excellent book Cabaret Secrets (see www.cabaretsecrets.com), a must-read for any aspiring performer, with associated podcasts). But only a performer with complete vocal confidence and many years of experience and good musical judgement could make a show like this work so well; and Harry the Piano, who can play anything in any style, completed the picture.

Making the audience central to the show was exciting and endearing and a compliment to them, and both Williams and Harry clearly reveled in the process of creating a show “on the hoof.” I counted 41 selections sung or played during the show, but they came so thick and fast I may have missed one or two. However, Williams gave every song his complete attention and his moving rendition of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (Mann/Hilliard) stays in the mind, as do many others, such as “All the Way” (Van Heusen/Cahn) “The Girl from Ipanema” (Jobim/de Moraes/Gimbel) sung in Portuguese, the moving “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (Legrand/Bergmans), “Angel Eyes” (Dennis/Brent) and, of course “(The Theme from) New York New York” (Kander & Ebb), “That’s Life” (Kay/Gordon) and “My Way” (Revaux/François/Anka). It is hard to choose one favorite, as Sinatra shone through every one of Williams’s superb performances of these well-loved songs. He was equally at ease with a soft, intimate lyric or a swinging showpiece.

It is no wonder then that the delighted audience rose to its feet and demanded more and, with his encore of “My Way,” Williams brought Sinatra right back into the room and made a perfect end to this unique celebration. I can think of no other singer to better pay homage to Ol’ Blue Eyes on his 100th birthday.