Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights: Girl Power: Harold’s Harem

Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights

Girl Power: Harold’s Harem

Live at Zédel at Crazy Coqs, London, U.K., May 15, 2017

Reviewed by Mychelle Colleary for Cabaret Scenes

(L-R) April Nicholson, Harold Sanditen,
Juliet Wood, Chamonix Aspen, April Ho
Photo: Stuart Hull Photography

Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights is a full-length show/special event series featuring “the best of” the regular performers at the über-popular monthly open mic at Crazy Coqs, part of Live at Zedel.  

The first show in this 2017 series featured Chamonix Aspen, April Ho, April Nicholson, and Juliet Wood. What was remarkable about the night was how poised, polished, professional, and enjoyably relaxed the event was. Each performer appeared comfortable in her/his own skin and, as such, was readily accepted and fully supported by the audience.
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The actual monthly open mic itself is warm and inviting, while still encouraging everyone to do his/her best. It focuses on supporting participants, rather than getting caught up in comparing or judging. In that sense, this Open Mic Highlights program is most definitely an offshoot of the on-going monthly event.

Sanditen opened the show with aplomb: He delivered a delightfully arranged medley of “Somewhere” and “I Know a Place.”First up was April Nicholson. She’s the most experienced of the group, having worked professionally in the West End before taking a long break from performing to raise her family. She was the perfect picture of grace and assurance. With her dancer’s physical comportment, ease of patter, sparkling eyes, flaming red hair, and full-length purple gloves, she had an air of Gwen Verdon about her. Though ever so slightly feathered with age at the edges, the pure bell-like quality of her voice and perfect articulation shone through her beautifully delivered selections, most notably on “Come Rain or Come Shine.” While West End roles for women of a certain age are limited, cabaret is definitely a genre that would welcome her experience and her love of Harold Arlen.

Chamonix Aspen was next up, a bejeweled, dazzlingly glamorous, and tremendously tall in her big-girl shoes drag queen, who delivered delightfully funny (persona biographical) parody lyrics by Robert Wyatt to very well-known songs in a lusty spoken-sung baritone. I think of her as the test tube love child of Melania Trump, Joan Collins, Caitlyn Jenner, and Tom Lehrer, except she’s blonde. Aspen had the audience groaning with laughter.

After intermission, Juliet Wood provided the most structurally and harmonically complex music in the show, including “I Mean You” (Thelonious Monk/Coleman Hawkins). Different from the other performers who were, to varying degrees, going for sparkly glamour, Wood, in vocal delivery and dress, was an understated mix of flower power meets Audrey Hepburn, or hippie meets Holly Golightly. Though not out of tune, her voice from a production standpoint didn’t quite settle comfortably into the material. It seemed as if her ear and appreciation for her challenging musical choices outstripped her current ability to execute vocals consistently. But that is a great place to be—perfect, actually. As one of the chosen singers representing the highlights of the Open Mic, fully embracing the ethos of presenting where you are now and taking advantage a safe place to be brave and daring, she embodies growing by taking chances. And that’s just what she did.

Speaking of growing through experience, April Ho seems to have utilized the Open Mic over the last year or so as her very own university of performing. She’s always had a good ear and pleasant voice, but, with the normal awkwardness that comes from entering performing as an adult and full-time city worker. Now absolutely comfortable on stage, channeling Marilyn Monroe with bits of Peggy Lee and Doris Day thrown in, she owned her performance both in vocal ability and stagecraft. A bit out of character from her previous performances, she got a bit naughty and infused some sexual innuendo and swear words into her patter. Fresh faced and sweet, this newly minted dark streak could actually develop into an interesting juxtaposition of qualities. That said, knowing her parents from China were in the audience, it all felt a bit scandalous… until we found out that they don’t speak English at all!
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If she continues to hone her craft at this pace, she’ll soon accomplish her dream of becoming a working and recognizable cabaret performer in London.

The evening ended with a group number led by host Sanditen, “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” (Irving Berlin), which featured some really juicy group harmonies. The single lines sung by each of the group didn’t quite work, but that’s quite a small thing compared to an entire evening of exquisite performances.

The heroes of the evening, whether at the Open Mic itself or in this Highlights show are, of course, the extraordinarily gifted musicians absolutely keen on helping folks sound their best. Focused and engaged, they exude a sense of joy and genuine collaboration. They were Musical Director and accompanist Michael Roulston, on piano, and Robert Rickenberg on bass.

And lastly, there is Harold Sanditen, who created all of this magic from scratch. His dedication and sincere sense of duty to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for performers, as well as his good-natured thirst for joviality, perpetuates the brilliant environment of the Open Mic and Highlights shows. He literally facilitates hundreds of wonderful performances annually. We can’t thank him enough.

Mychelle Colleary

Mychelle Colleary (native Californian, honorary New Yorker and now Londoner) graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from San Jose State University. Her first professional acting role was at 18 and she worked in theater for two years before attending University. As a jazz vocalist, Mychelle has performed internationally and has shared the stage with greats such as Carl Anderson, Clare Fischer and Bobby McFerrin. She currently divides her time between project management (design & communications) and being on a stage or in an audience. From musical theater to classical to folk rock to jazz to cabaret, Mychelle brings her collective professional experience and insight to reviewing.