An American Francophile in Blighty
The Pheasantry, London, UK, March 22, 2017
Reviewed by Fiona Coffey for Cabaret Scenes
Mychelle Colleary’s appearances at Crazy Coqs’ Open Mic Night provide regular, but tiny, morsels of her considerable talent as a jazz chanteuse, but opportunities to dine on a full show have been few and far between. On this evening’s showing, there will be plenty of people urging her not to let her London audience go hungry again.
Four-time MAC Award nominee in the Female Vocalist category, Colleary has enjoyed much success on the New York circuit, with a winning combination of engaging cabaret stage persona and serious jazz vocals. In this show, she presented a collection of jazz-infused selections by fellow Francophiles including Josephine Baker, Kurt Weill, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter, as well as contemporary and traditional French songs.
In a post Brexit world, it is somewhat ironic that it takes an American Francophile living in Blighty to pay homage to our closest European partner. But the English and French have enjoyed a curious blend of affection and antipathy for centuries and, through the eyes of an outsider, we remind ourselves why French culture and those very familiar songs have such enduring appeal. Classics such as Piaf’s “La Vie en rose” and “Milord,” and Kurt Weill/Maurice Magre’s “Je ne t’aime pas” were deeply felt and beautifully rendered by Colleary in impeccable French, yet we never lost touch with the same smooth, rounded bell-like quality of her voice when singing in her native tongue. Her ability to transition effortlessly between her French and English numbers was the literal embodiment of the show’s theme: a celebration of an ongoing relationship with France as a source of creative inspiration, rather than a Piaf tribute act. And in seeking cultural reference points, Colleary cast her net widely. She justified a glorious mélange of “Que Sera, Sera” and “All Blues” on the basis that Miles Davis found a spiritual home in France, and Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera” “sounded foreign and cool when I was a child, so I assumed it must be French.”
There are some very fine arrangements in this show—“Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable to Lunch Today)” was a particular delight—and, more generally, the quality of musicianship and on-stage rapport between Colleary and her accompanists, pianist and MD Michael Roulston and Jonathan “Kitch” Kitching on drums, was superb. Alongside this, a sense of quirkiness ran through the show, in the patter and some of the more eclectic song choices. I loved French rock group Téléphone’s “New York avec toi,” and Gainsbourg’s “Laissez-moi tranquille.” And it is not often that one sees a drummer walk across stage to play the piano, but when Roulston switched to his red melodica for “La Vie en rose” and Kitching sat alongside him to play a simple piano accompaniment, there was an exquisite sense of rightness about the intimacy, vulnerability, and warmth that this physical and musical arrangement brought to Piaf’s classic. It was captivating.
American Francophile in Blighty showcases Colleary’s vocal talent and musicianship, but its strength and appeal lies in a number of elements that work seamlessly together. The singer retains her down to earth, quirky, and spontaneous qualities, but brings polish to patter that is interesting, funny and thoroughly enhances the show. Together, the vocalist and her musicians create a relaxed atmosphere, yet there is an unmistakable rigor underpinning this well-crafted show. I felt there was room for one or two more experimental song choices; in a battle between “Black Coffee” and a more interesting objet trouvé, for me there is no contest…but this is a minor quibble. This is a highly enjoyable and memorable show, which reminds us Brits of the cherished Entente Cordiale with our French neighbors. On this basis alone, I hope we see American Francophile in Blighty far more often. and that it brings Colleary much deserved success.