One of the finest recent cabaret shows in New York was Cocktails with Coward at Don’t Tell Mama. The all-too-short run was over too soon, but the producers of this delightful assembly of the Noel Coward songbook have the hopes of return dates, and if not at Don’t Tell Mama, then another worthy venue. This joyful production felt a little squeezed at Don’t Tell Mama, and the show could benefit from a little more breathing room. That said, the production was a more lavish offering than one is used to seeing at Don’t Tell Mama, and this only adds to the surprise and excitement of the event.
A three-piece combo supported the ensemble of Gerrianne Raphael, Tom Beckett, Zeb Homison, Natalie Silverlieb, and Cooper Grodin, who both sang and accompanied the group on the piano. As a group, the cast was winning, taking on famous characters from Coward’s plays, gathered for a cocktail party at which Coward himself is supposed to attend. He is running late, however, and so the group drinks, sings, and muses about the old man as they await his arrival. He never does arrive, and there is a historical reason for this, but it is an unusually serious plot point, introduced too late into the evening to sit right in an otherwise frivolous and fictional show.
The cast sang more than 30 songs, both in themed medleys and solo spots, each logically leading to the next. The characters were costumed in ’30s eveningwear, and designer Anne Lommel found variety in the clothes throughout the two-act evening. James Bedell did a very nice job with a limited lighting plot, adding appropriate mood to the proceedings along with a little showbiz flair. Lavender’s staging on the small stage was tight without seeming claustrophobic, and he managed to present some simple dancing and a breezy flow of movement throughout.
Coward fans must have been delighted, especially with Tom Beckett and Natalie Silverlieb, who stood out as singers and actors quite suited to Coward’s style. Those not so familiar with the Coward songbook would find his work both nostalgic and surprisingly contemporary in subject matter. The musical material of Noel Coward is under-explored, and Cocktails for Coward is an excellent and entertaining way to rediscover one aspect of the wealth of this artist’s work.
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Copyright 2005 Michael D. Jackson