Lillias White Sings Broadway
Accompanied by Billy Stritch
Crazy Coqs, London (until April 23)
Produced by Hoagy Carmichael Jr.
The pan-damn-demic, as Broadway singer Lillias White puts it, has abated sufficiently for her to bring her considerable presence to cosy, atmospheric venues, including London’s Crazy Coqs.
The return to live performances is the more necessary because of the ugliness of our times that inspire her to quote from Leonard Bernstein, in turn inspired by working with Stephen Sondheim.
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before,” she quotes Bernstein as saying, after shuffling around for the paper on which the words are written as an aide-mémoire, the need for which she blames on her advancing years – the leitmotif of the show.
Lillias’ music is above all more intense as she brings to the four songs she fits into this 30-minute set a wealth of worldly wisdom and devotion: the characters she portrays have lived a lot and Lillias tells us she prays a lot.
First up is The oldest profession – one of the showstoppers of 1990s Off Broadway show The Life, in which Lillias played the part of Sonja, “a ho with a heart of gold” – one of several phrases in the between-songs banter you sense the London audience is slow to grasp.
More than two decades on, Lillias hams up the weariness of the life in a “pre-Disneyfied” Times Square that still had rawness and edge and there is pathos as well as comedy in the claim she is only 26.
“I Wanna be Loved,” is a natural sequel that Lillias says is for her a prayer to be “thrilled to desperation … with every kind of wonderful sensation”. Again, she performs at the leisurely bluesy pace that makes us share every suggestive nuance, helped by deft accompanist Billy Stritch’s bravura improvisions.
Love is all about reciprocity, which means When You’re Good to Mama, from Chicago, is another perfectly judged sequel and a welcome shift from blues to irresistible rhythm.
We end in reflective mood with Somewhere from West Side Story in tribute to Bernstein and Sondheim and their replies to violence.
Barbara Lewis © 2022.