Tuesday 24 September 2013

John Barr - Self Portrait

Crazy Coqs, London


Apparently it's been 5 years since John Barr last performed in cabaret,but judging by his slick and polished turn at the Crazy Coqs, you would think he was riding high, mid-season. Diminutive in stature (he jokingly boasts of being the tallest in his family) and shaven headed, Barr has a stage presence that demands your attention. He hits impossible harmonics and sustains perfectly held notes that go on forever. If Barr's voice was a motorbike it would be a Harley-Davidson, comfortable, beautiful to listen to, a world class standard that is designed to be appreciated and as able to deliver guttural exhilaration as it is to instantly switch to beautifully breezy ballads. 

Any good cabaret set demands a repartee with the audience that reaches out across the "fourth wall". Barr doesn’t just bring that wall down, he demolishes it and with a devilishly cheeky grin and twinkle in his eyes, proceeds to dance upon its rubble throughout the evening. With Fiz Shapur on piano it is clear that these two talented professionals have an innate understanding of each other. When Barr chats too much, Shapur whisperingly suggests that he should "shut up and sing".

It is a gloriously eclectic selection that opens with Starting Here, Starting Now, sweetly defining Barr’s ballad credentials with the Tear Up The Town that follows, a fine display of tone and impact. A reference to his early days at Sylvia Young's theatre school (contemporary alumni Frances Ruffelle and Jenna Russell were in the crowd) was the intro to his fond look back on a childhood Sondheim showcase with Anyone Can Whistle and clearly adoring Streisand, his What About Today is a glorious tribute to the diva. Barr speaks warmly of his brief work with Anthony Newley before offering a fine take on Newley's signature number What Kind Of Fool Am I? and he goes on to close act one with Pippin's Corner Of The Sky, boastfully, brazenly, telling the crowd how proud he is that composer Stephen Schwartz often asks him to sing the number. Having bigged himself up, (hey, if you got it, flaunt it) Shapur leads in with a beautiful arrangement of the song's haunting opening and whilst its lyrics may sometimes be corny, Schwartz's sublime melodies and key changes were simply smashed. Eagles did indeed belong where they can fly, as Barr soared off for a well earned half-time break.

Act two saw some reflective moments on Barr's past loves before a fine interpretation of Nat King Cole's Nature Boy. The little known Mama, A Rainbow from Minnie's Boys gave Barr the chance to pay tribute to his mum Marie in the audience. Summoning her on stage (with an introduction of questionable chivalry, that if he ever went into drag, his mum is what he'd look like) the love between son and mother was a celebration of inspirational tenderness. Whilst some may call the moment cheesy, it's fondness and above all, sincerity was undoubted. Maintaining his commitment to the importance of family, he dedicated John Bucchino's Grateful to his goddaughter (Russell's child) before his pre-encore closer of Self Portrait from Ed Kleban's A Class Act. Barr had given an acclaimed performance as Kleban in that show, earlier this year and his tender rendition of a number that speaks of incredible sadness and realisation made for another sparkling moment.

Judging the man by his company, Barr's packed audience were a blend of family, friends and industry legends. In town for one night only, this show demands an early reprise. John Barr's Self Portrait is a masterpiece.

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