Nov. 22: Miss Hope Springs

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Miss Hope Springs

November 22 at 7:00 pm

The Crazy Coqs
20 Sherwood St., London, U.K.
020 7734 4888

Miss-Hope-Springs-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Here’s Helen Theophanous’ review of Hope’s recent show:

It is not surprising that Miss Hope Springs was one of three acts shortlisted for best Musical Variety Act in the 2015 London Cabaret Awards. To write exceptionally good songs, arrange them and play the piano would be talent enough, but to create a complete repertoire for a fictitious character to sing and relate them to that character’s life is a touch of genius. This is not an impersonation but a credible character created by and acted by someone uniquely multi-talented. Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie” comes to mind as a character created to show her talent as a performer.

Entering the Hippodrome Casino through the brightly-lit buzzing gaming room where once the audience sat in what used to be the famous Talk of the Town cabaret venue, one cannot help noticing the ornate proscenium, thankfully preserved, and imagining in the mind’s eye the list of international stars who trod those boards to tumultuous applause night after night. It’s a fitting venue for Miss Hope Springs to reminisce on her showgirl days at the Pink Pelican in Las Vegas. The Matcham Room stage, cleverly fashioned as a mezzanine behind the famed theater arch, retains the magic of the original theater, but with a more intimate nightclub atmosphere.

The pre-show music took us back to the fifties and set the scene for the stunning entrance of Miss Hope Springs, the tall, glamorous ex-Vegas showgirl in her white sparkling pant suit and bouffant blonde hair. She stood center stage singing with her band, to a subtly augmented orchestrated pre-recorded track, gently drawing the attention of her audience with the touching “I Wish the World Would Sing One Song,” entreating the world to find some common ground. It’s an anthem for peace which had the audience swaying in complete sympathy as she moved to the piano stool to play with her onstage rhythm section for the final chorus.

Following a humorous and endearing introduction to her world and her fascination since childhood with the bright lights of Vegas…(seen from her trailer, and her first date in a casino), Miss Hope continued at the piano with the melancholy “Casino,” harking back to a 1920s Irving Berlin jazz feel, its syncopated off-beat rhythm revealing that life is a gamble: “…one more spin, one final throw, but settle your debts before you go.” Life, it seems, does not always fulfill its promise. “Hometown Girl” tells the story of the ever hopeful girl attracted by the bright lights, but with no way home. This 1970s Billy Joel vibe was poignantly portrayed by Miss Hope at the piano with a back projection on the curtains of a be-feathered showgirl slowly swirling round in a misty half light. Maybe the young Miss Hope in her heyday: “she came alive when the lights were bright”; her lovely vocals and this glimpse into her past drawing us ever closer to this endearing character.

The conversation with the audience after this song, as in all the conversation interludes, is witty and pithy, perfectly timed, with engaging, clever, self-deprecating humor painting the picture of a life of promise sadly falling short of expectations. First husband Gianfranco “The Hook” Stamponides was “in pest control.

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” Second ex-husband Irving’s entreaties to start over being met with the bluesy “Nothing For You,” yet another beautifully crafted song performed standing in the spotlight, a singer communicating directly with the audience in the style of Liza Minnelli singing Aznavour. The hilarious anecdote of a film career, ending up on the cutting room floor, concludes with the audience joining in with the funky “Funny”: “…funny how things work out,” with a great bass solo from Mike Higgins and a dazzling drum solo from Sam Glasson, Miss Hope’s “hot jazz combo” firmly stating their jazz credentials.

It is fascinating that, unlike other gender illusionists, the character of Miss Hope Springs created by Ty Jeffries, son of British character actor Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Camelot, Notorious Landlady), is a controlled portrayal, the gentleness and stillness in her face enlivened by the judicious use of glances from a pair of beacon-like eyes reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood actresses. Possibly this is given authority by Jeffries’s first-hand experience having spent his formative years in Hollywood when his father was there making movies. This is a well-crafted, believable character portrayed by an actor of great skill using minimal gestures to enhance a point. The songs are all his original lyrics and music, and although written for Miss Hope Springs, they stand alone as songs any performer would be proud to sing. Of course, the composer Ty Jeffries is a classically trained musician who was once signed to Elton John’s Rocket Music as a songwriter.

Unique in being a brilliant singer, pianist and arranger with skilful character acting talent, this combination makes for a show as near perfect as one could hope for. Added to this Jeffries’s slick direction of the show brings constant surprise and variety, with the film sequences complementing the stories told by the songs and the comedic stand-up delivery always a delight.

“Hearts Drawn in the Sand” is a beautiful ballad harmonically interesting starting colla voce with piano only and picking up tempo with the rhythm section and gently ending with piano. The sentiment of the hearts being washed away was clear. This mood was cleverly broken with the highly unlikely story of one of Miss Hope’s musical projects based on Joan Crawford’s last film, Trog, and a rendition of its even more unlikely but catchy theme tune in a minor key with an up-tempo disco feel. The first set ends with Hope’s brilliantly funny anecdotes of a recovering showgirl followed by a fabulous Peggy Lee-style finger-clicking number “Hoochie Mama,” aided by an adoring audience whose finger-clicking soon turned into rapturous applause.

The recorded music in the break retained the mood reflecting the era of Miss Hope’s youthful days and, as the second set began, a silver screen descended showing an atmospheric black and white projected video of our showgirl singing as the camera turned around her, highlighting her in dusty misty shards of light with a glitter ball spangled effect and glaring spotlight. She sings “Where Have the Good Times Gone?” to an empty theater auditorium, with a beautiful orchestration of clarinet, flute and strings, the haunting clarinet solo enhancing a menacing haunting quality to the arrangement. Miss Hope Springs appears on stage almost stepping out of the screen in the same black spangled pant suit that she wears in the film. It is a very effective way to open the second set and adds another dimension bringing us the past and the present of this character. The video was produced and edited by Jeffries and the music composed and arranged by him.

“Let’s Run Away with the Circus” starts with a fairground atmosphere—a carousel organ over the sound of children’s voices as the lighting flickers through different colors. There are some dark minor harmonies and the number cleverly moves from waltz time to an uplifting pop chorus, Leiber and Stoller-style, it ends with the sound of the children’s voices fading away as mist rises on the stage.

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Immediately Miss Hope skilfully changes the mood as, standing by the microphone, she relates more hysterically funny and unlikely episodes of her love life followed by the rhythmic and catchy song of tears, “Water and Salt.” She starts accompanied first by drums, then joined by the bass and, at the bridge, she moves to the piano perfectly in tune and continues with solos by the trio as blue lights shine through the mist generated on stage. This is a rhythmic and catchy song, the sentiment holding the listener to ransom for the tears shed which cannot be returned and breaking down the sadness to the chemistry of water and salt—with an element of revenge.

More highly amusing anecdotes about ex-husband Irving and a showgirl pal follow before the showstopper song “Queen of Fools” fantasizing about “castles and fairy tales, make-believe and a princess in organdie….falling in love with the wrong guy…pack your bags…catch a train…nothing’s gonna make it right this time.” The words match the melody so well and the arrangement is perfect and would not be out of place on a Karen Carpenter album. But Hope is no “Queen of Fools”—just a stunning performance of a brilliant creation by Jeffries.

Just as you think you have seen it all, the encore delights with the exciting boogaloo rhythm of “The Devil Made Me Do It,” with red flashing lights and the gravelly-voiced Miss Hope innocently relating how she was not really responsible for all the bad, bad things she had to do, as she hits the keys with that funky groove with her hot jazz combo. Miss Hope would be entirely at home in London’s old Talk of the Town or indeed on any international stage.

This show has everything you could wish for and is truly an entertainment to appeal to any audience. It is a triumph, skilfully directed by Jeffries, who has already completed a screenplay and no doubt he will soon fulfill another ambition as a director. Miss Hope’s Las Vegas and New York audience would adore her now in her vintage years. She’s still a real trouper.