Cocktails with Coward
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
July 19, 2005
This evening of Noel Coward songs proves to be a bit of puzzlement. With two very worthy revues of Coward’s music already in existence, Oh Coward and Cowardy Custard, why attempt another? One could argue that the prolific artist certainly wrote enough songs for several more revues, but the quality of all the pieces will inevitably not be the same. I’m a big fan of Coward’s work and always welcome a chance to hear his material, but many of the songs in this show are already in the other revues, and some of the additional ones are simply not Coward’s best work.
The evening starts out with the unique premise that characters from four of Coward's plays are gathered to see him—Elyot Chase (of Private Lives) played by Tom Beckett, Judith Bliss (Hay Fever) played by Gerrianne Raphael, Tony (Star Quality) played by Zeb Homison, and Elvira (Blithe Spirit) played by Natalie Silverlieb. They are joined by the Cooper Grodin, who is billed simply as The Pianist (but occasionally joins in as a vocalist as well). John Haegele and James Ryan Sloan also appear briefly as non-singing hunky “eye candy” waiters. The problem is, that after introducing themselves as the characters, this theme is almost never mentioned for the rest of the evening.
Vocally there is a varying range of ability. The more mature cast members, Raphael and Beckett, seem comfortable with their material and capture the style of Coward more successfully than the others, who could also benefit from more sessions with their British dialect coach. Some of the high points include Raphael’s renditions of "I Like America" and "The Party’s Over Now" and Beckett’s "Mrs. Worthington" and "Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans." This show does have some gems that you won’t see elsewhere, but at over two hours including an intermission, it could benefit from some trimming.
Staging and choreography by Daniel T. Lavender are simple and effective, and the lighting by James Bedell has some nice mood moments. Set and costume design is by Anne Lommel, and special mention must be made of the instrumentalists, pianist Cooper Grodin, percussionist Jason Holmes, and bass player Byrne Klay. Their talents and ability to follow and support the vocalists adds immeasurably to the evening.