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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Jazz at Cafe Society
Tricycle Theatre   Summer 2012

A concert with commentary, this is a salute to Cafe Society, the seminal New York City jazz club that flourished in the 1940s, introducing racially integrated bands and audiences and featuring stars from Billie Holiday through Nellie Lutcher. 

The story is told through the words of the club's owner Barney Josephson, gleaned by Alex Webb from interviews and read by broadcaster Max Reinhardt, his narrative and anecdotes punctuated by about twenty musical numbers. 

(Reinhardt sits at a desk on the side of the stage, his face almost completely masked by his microphone and reading lamp, and generally tries a little too hard to push the jokes and the imitation of Josephson's style, rather than letting the words stand on their own.) 

Although most of the songs are associated with specific Cafe Society performers, the singers – Gwyneth Herbert, China Moses and Alexander Stewart – rarely make more than token efforts to imitate the originals, so their performances, however skilled and entertaining in themselves, are rarely evocative. 

The real stars of the evening are the onstage band, led from the piano by Alex Webb but really energised by the alternately driving and mellow trumpet of Sue Richardson. 

Most numbers are arranged (by Webb) to have extended instrumental bridges in the middle, and these sections are almost always far more inventive and interesting than the vocals that sandwich them. 

Still, Stewart does get to shine in a sly rendition of 'One Meat Ball', Moses in a kittenish 'Parlez Moi d'Amour' and Herbert in a bouncing 'Hurry On Down'. 

Probably more at home in a Soho cellar than a Kilburn theatre, Jazz at Cafe Society is nonetheless a pleasant ninety minutes of nostalgic light entertainment.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Jazz at Cafe Society - Tricycle Theatre 2012  

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