What could be more appropriate for the holiday season than a celebration of Noel Peirce Coward who was born one hundred and nine years ago on December 16 in Teddington, England? The celebrated actor, playwright, novelist, artist, lyricist and composer was perhaps, the most gifted theatrical genius of the past century. His wit and wisdom is currently being served up in a delightful hour of song by Simon Green, in his US debut at the cozy 59E59 E.Cafe. Mr Green brings A Cabaret for Noel directly from London's West End for an all too brief Gotham engagement through Sunday, January 4.
With the consummate assist of David Shrubsole at the piano, Green skirts through twenty of the master's tunes and it's a delightfully heady mix of humor and romanticism. The latter is best defined in "You Were There" from the dreamlike Shadow Play. The very words, "I saw you and my heart stopped beating," would seem to sum up Coward's extraordinary talent for defining the follies of the heart. He followed it with a medley "A Room with a View" and "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" and all one needed was a hand to hold.
Of course the extraordinary wit of Coward is joyfully offered in "Why Must the Show Go On?", a hilarious send up on show biz tradition and "What's Going to Happen to the Tots" a query made even more frightening by its postscript, "when there aren't any more grown ups?
A real revelation is Mr. Shrubsole's discovery in the British Museum of the score for "Couldn't We Keep on Dancing?" a song from the 1925 On With the Dance with music attributed to Philip Braham set to Coward's lyrics. It's quite possibly a Coward premiere and the best Christmas present one could ever find.
I will never forget as a lad of seven my mother taking me to Loew's in White Plains to see Bitter Sweet on my New Year's Day birthday. I could never forgive George Sanders for running a sword through Nelson Eddy, and will always remember the tear jerking finale as a radiant Jeanette MacDonald sang "I'll See You Again" to her beau in the clouds. Green coupled the fond memory with "This is a Changing World," where "new songs are sung, new stars appear."
Green, a lithe and lean light baritone who performs with the right balance of breezy panache and sophistication, offers some Cowardly quips along the way and encores with the poetic quest from Private Lives, "Someday I'll Find You."