Thursday 27 February 2014

Jeff Harnar - Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?

Crazy Coqs, London

Jeff Harnar

Jeff Harnar may have started his life on the West Coast, but in his Crazy Coqs’ week-long residency, amusingly titled “Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?”, we meet a man who is unquestionably a product of New York City. His childhood recollections of the view down Broadway from the top of the Empire State Building, through to memories of meeting Sammy Cahn backstage at Carnegie Hall give the night a lifeblood that is derived from the city’s glittering theatricality.

Before his cabaret career took off, Harnar worked as a singing waiter at an Upper West Side restaurant where night after night, he would be elbowed into repeated renditions of Kander and Ebb’s New York, New York. Decades later and now internationally-renowned, he delivers a fresher take on the bombastic ditty. “Don’t get me wrong”, he pleads with over-inflated sincerity as he warms his audience up for the classic number, “It’s not a bad song – the first 10,000 times” and in his affectionately mocking rewrite of the legendary lyrics, we can see his dedication to the genre.

On form however, the man is a treat. As he blazes through glittering show-tunes including My Personal Property and Lonely Town, never dropping his broad smiling facade, we discover that Harnar is a clever negotiator who can juggle his expansive appreciation for New York with an adoring cynicism. To Musical Director Nathan Martin’s tinkering piano, the crooner extracts roaring laughter from his crowd and later, as he screams, riffs and cavorts in a spirit of well-balanced insincerity, he captures the pulse of a fickle town where both everybody and nobody can feel at home. Yes, these musical garments have their dropped stitches, but as Harnar dwells so calmly on the glittery surface of cabaret while teasing us with glimpses at the erudite foundations of his art, his show makes for a strong tribute to both his artform and his city. The show is not yet flawless with Harnar sometimes veering onto uncomfortable ground, blurring the boundaries between ‘nostalgic’ and ‘outmoded’. “Isn’t it quaint and charming how dated these records are?” he enthuses whilst over-indulgently thumbing through a pile of LPs that are possibly long past their Best Before date.

Ultimately we find that the night is marked by a learned appreciation of and a respect for, the cabaret form, that buzzes with a tightly-polished mischievous spirit. Harnar’s stage persona is as glitzy and sharply constructed as the city that inspires him and, fittingly for a show of this name – which sees the performer “trying on some new material, to see if it fits” – his set list is as deliciously frivolous as a shopping spree in Macy’s. Sparkling cabaret, delivered by a man who truly knows his craft.

In residency until 1st March

Guest reviewer: Milly Raleigh

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