Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights: A Global Affair

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Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights

A Global Affair

Live at Zédel at the Crazy Coqs, London, UK, September 25, 2017

Reviewed by Fiona Coffey for Cabaret Scenes

(L-R) Nina Pelton, Amy Drew, Harold Sanditen,
Gavin Brock, Sharon Lenihan.

Last night’s instalment of Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights show—the third in a series of spin-offs from the enormously successful Open Mic Party—sealed Sanditen’s reputation as a master of attracting and showcasing cabaret talent. It is no small achievement to create an evening as good as this from a pool of open mic regulars, But, then again, Sanditen’s Open Mic Party attracts no ordinary class of regular.

Sanditen has worked hard to perfect his formula for both his Open Mic Party and Highlights. He understands what audiences need, and how to make artists shine individually, as well as join together to create a slick and professional show. As previous reviews have implied, the Highlights format is so robust it works even when one or two artists appear rather more emerging than emerged. But, last night, blessed with an exceptionally talented and varied line-up, and superbly sympathetic accompaniment from pianist/musical director Michael Roulston and bassist Robert Rickenberg, Open Mic Highlights: A Global Affair was nothing short of a triumph for all concerned.

After the opening medley of “Somewhere”/”I Know a Place” led by Sanditen, with the four artists offering brief samples of their vocal chops, it was down to Welsh-born, Australian-raised, ex-hair stylist Sharon Lenihan to get the party started.

Her opening number, “An Occasional Man,” was the perfect choice for her Marilyn Monroe-meets-Betty Boop onstage persona. Looking gorgeous in her wiggle dress, oozing vintage sweater-girl charm and sex-appeal, Lenihan absolutely knows how to work her audience with smooth effortless vocals and a knowing wink. Others may have done this kind of retro pastiche, but Lenihan distinguishes herself by showing a little edge underneath the cutesiness. Her patter is wickedly funny, delivered with great comic timing, and the unconventional choice of The Clash’s hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was inspired and surprisingly suited to Lenihan’s signature style.

Sharing Lenihan’s Welsh heritage, composer and lyricist Gavin Brock can also be seen as something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A cheery, engaging and unassuming presence on stage, he showcased three of his original songs, interspersed with expertly timed comic patter. Opening with the funny and touching “Another Day in the Life of a Nerd,” he followed with a heartfelt and moving musical theater-style ballad, “The World Needs You.” But he also showed his claws, bringing the house down with the bitingly satirical and bang up-to-date “Theresa May’s Song.” He has depth and breadth of talent: a great singing voice, a natural and likeable stage presence, and a catalog of hugely enjoyable and varied original songs. I was left feeling excited to hear more of his work.

After a short break, next up was the ridiculously talented Amy Drew. Moving to London in 2008, she has already completed seven years as principal dancer, teacher and choreographer with the English Youth Ballet. But she also holds an ambition to sing in a West End musical theater role before she returns to her native Australia and. On the strength of this set, she fully deserves to achieve it.

With lovely interactive accompaniment from Roulston, she smoothly segued from patter to song, offering highly polished and expressive renditions of “Gimme, Gimme” and “Unforgettable.” She also showcased her talents as a raconteur with a very funny, though quite extensive, story involving a break-up and a dishwasher, before concluding with a spirited mash-up of “Diamond’s Are a Girls Best Friend” and Beyoncé’s hit, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

Then on came Nina Pelton to blow everyone’s socks off with her magnificent R&B powerhouse voice, completely nailing Fats Waller’ and Andy Razaf’s “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” in a style reminiscent of Jocelyn Brown, before squeezing every drop of emotion out of Irving Berlin’s “You Can Have Him.” This was a bravura performance, comic asides early on mischievously wrong-footing the audience, who were carried through ever more heart-wrenching corridors of pain, leading to an audible collective sigh when it was all over.

But Pelton knows how to do funny, too, with plenty of laughs as she managed the segue to her closing number: a barnstorming cover of Erykah Badu/Norman “Keys” Hurt’s “Tyrone.”

It was a breathtakingly good set of performances from all four artists—funny, involving, consistently well-executed songs with top-notch accompaniment. After this, we would not have minded if the traditional close of Berlin’s “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” was a hastily cobbled together sing-a-long . But, it is testament to the quality of Sanditen’s show and Roulston’s musical direction that the group number showed the same level of polish and professionalism that we had enjoyed during the solo spots. This particular Highlights will be a hard act to follow.

Fiona Coffey

Fiona Coffey joins our review team as a cabaret enthusiast and jazz singer, just as she makes her sell-out debut on the London cabaret scene with a self-devised tribute to her alter-ego Mrs. Robinson. She has hosted jazz evenings and performed at a number of venues including The Crazy Coqs, The Pheasantry, and 606 Club. In her day job she is a leadership development coach, travelling around the globe, working with a hugely diverse population of executives, as they grapple with the challenges of leadership and organizational change. Having recently expended most of her writing energies on her doctoral thesis, she welcomes the opportunity to entertain and inform a different audience through Cabaret Scenes.