Crazy Coqs, London
The Crazy Coqs have a canny eye for a cabaret crowd puller. The intimate art deco venue is fast establishing itself as a stage for both discerning performers and audiences and was again a sell out as Hollywood's Lorna Luft took up her week’s residency in this elegant London haunt.
Judy Garland’s younger daughter, Miss Luft's showbiz pedigree is impeccable and accompanied by her English husband, talented pianist Colin Freeman, expectations were high as she introduced her set describing it as a journey through the American songbook. With just a couple of diversions along the way, Luft provided a polished whirl through some of the finest numbers to emerge from Hollywood and Broadway over the course of the 20th century.
Luft has a vocal presence that reminds one of a beautifully maintained 1980’s Cadillac. Impressive, American, bold, luxurious, with just a hint from time to time of needing maintenance, but above all, providing an absolutely luxurious ride. Hers is a beautifully large sound and though she hails from and speaks of her heritage as being from Los Angeles and California, to this untrained ear at least there is more than a hint of New York Bronx in her voice. This lady’s vocal strength though is in her belt. Whilst as a glamorous and beautiful woman she is of course ageless, her ability to deliver powerful melodies and hold a note for an unbelieveable number of bars was inspiring. The Crazy Coqs though is nothing if not close-up and private and there were moments when Luft's sound was perhaps a little too overbearing for the room.
Luft has lived a rich life amongst some of the most colourful and creative characters of post-war America and when she speaks one listens. Her name-dropping of performers and composers was as authentic as it was fascinating and her warm reference to Jerry Herman, composer of the comedy musical Mame, as being one of the few people to recognise her mother as being a woman with a capacity for humour even in her troubled final years and of being one of the few men to then see in Judy Garland so much more than just tragedy, was an anecdote that it felt a privilege to have listened to. As she introduced the plaintive Time Heals Everything from Herman’s Mack & Mabel, a song that the composer had told her, was now “her song”,we saw a momentary glimpse of the mutual closeness and affection that Luft enjoys with many iconic individuals. That it would be easy to listen to Luft's tales for hours is the hallmark of a fascinating cabaret performance.
Herman’s work popped up from time to time through Luft’s set, which also included an extensive nod to Burt Bacharach and Hal David, as well as Rodgers and Hart, before closing with a compilation, this being the movies awards season, brilliantly stitched together of numerous Songbook classics from the pictures, that had NOT gone on to achieve Oscar recognition. There were some surprising inclusions.
With an appreciative audience on the night, predominatly sexa- and septuagenarians, Luft’s routine garnered rapturous applause with some of the crowd making the not insignificant effort to stand and cheer. The singer's message though is for all, and not just society's seniors. Both her connection with and her interpretation of, some of America's most recognisable show tunes is a rare treat on this side of the pond, and if you love the numbers then go see the show.