Eric Comstock: Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain

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Eric Comstock

Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain

Metropolitan Room, NYC, February 7, 2016

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Eric-Comstock-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212It may come as a surprise to some, but many of the songs in The Great American Songbook were written by Brits. And what better time for a show to explain this phenomenon than 4 pm, the traditional English tea time.

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To kick off this afternoon delight, piano man/crooner Eric Comstock dove right in with a surefire medley of “Smile” (music by Charlie Chaplin and lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons) and “Spread a Little Happiness” (music by Vivian Ellis and lyrics by Clifford Grey), barreling into “Let There Be Love” (music by Lionel Rand and lyrics by Ian Grant), and finally coming to rest with “London by Night” (music and lyrics by Carroll Coates).

Comstock happens to be a terrific storyteller and a nuanced wit – and so it was fitting that when he began his very amusing narrative, the next song of the set was “Everything Stops for Tea” (music by Maurice Sigler and lyrics by Al Goodheart and the American, Al Hoffman). This comedy song was introduced in 1935 by Jack Buchanan, whom Comstock identified as “the quintessential Englishman, born in Scotland, of course” (this phrase became a running joke throughout the show). The British Songbook is full of comedy and novelty songs (many more than in the strictly American Songbook), most likely owing to the long tradition of British Music Hall. Other examples presented by Comstock included Noël Coward’s “A Bar on the Piccola Marina” and the hugely witty “And Her Mother Came. Too,” with music composed by Coward’s great rival, Ivor Novello (and lyrics by Dion Titheradge).

In addition to the oldsters of a bygone era, the eclectic mélange of songs in Comstock’s show featured works by relative newbies, such as “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me?)” — written by Leslie Brucusse and Anthony Newley— paired with “Where Is Love?” (music and lyrics by Lionel Bart). Paul McCartney was showcased with “Here, There and Everywhere.

” “That concludes the Abbey Road portion of the show,” quipped Comstock.

Many selection on the set list qualified for the Downton Abbey portion, including Coward’s “London Pride.”

With a shared language and culture, inevitably Americans made their way into the writing of the British Songbook (Comstock quoted George Bernard Shaw on this matter – “two nations divided by a common language”). Two examples were a sprightly sung “S’posin,” with music by Londoner Paul Denniker and lyrics by the great African-American writer, Andy Razaf; and “If I Had You,” that ode of longing with music by American Ted Shapiro and lyrics by the British team of Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly.

Barbara Fasano, Comstock’s special guest, glided silkily through “The Wind in the Willows” (music by Vivian Ellis and lyrics by Desmond Carter) paired with “Fields of Gold” (music and lyrics by Gordon Sumner, aka Sting).

Fasano performed another of those Great American Songbook favorites, the entirely British “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” — music by Jack Strachey and lyrics by Eric Maschwitz– and a duet with husband Comstock, a sweet version of Coward’s “A Room with a View.

” Wrapping up a show of what Comstock referred to as “cool Britannia,” was the “quintessentially English” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” with music by Philadelphian Manning Sherwin and lyrics by Birmingham, England-born Eric Maschwitz.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.