Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights: Both Sides of the Pond

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Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights

Both Sides of the Pond

Live at Zédel at the Crazy Coqs, London, UK, November 22, 2017

Reviewed by Gavin Brock for Cabaret Scenes

November’s installment of Open Mic Highlights, Harold Sanditen’s highly popular and reliably entertaining monthly cabaret showcase, was a transatlantic affair. Accompanied by Robert Rickenberg on bass and Carl Greenwood on piano, Both Sides of the Pond boasted a strong ensemble of talented musical performers from as far afield as London, New York, and Minnesota, with several years’ experience tucked evidently into their collective belts.

Kicking off the evening’s proceedings, “jazzy, pizzazzy” Linda Bate paid tribute to “The Birth of the Blues,” evoking nostalgia for an age when jazz was new, and sentimentality remained unbridled, unabashed, and openly embraced. Bringing a delightful youthful energy to her performance, her second number, the equally nostalgic ballad “The Glory of Love” (featured memorably in the movie Beaches) paid an affectionate tribute to her fifty-year marriage to husband David. Her musical set, peppered with anecdotes about her childhood spent with a large Irish family, was a delight, and the deep-throated chanteuse exuded a breezy, familial warmth whose informal asides (“this intro doesn’t go on too long, don’t worry/I think I might fall off the stage in a minute”) brought the house down. Completing her act with the barnstorming “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” Bate announced that there is always a party around at her place, and everybody is invited. Like the fun auntie we gravitate towards at any family gathering, one can well imagine the festive knees-up in store at the Bates family home this Christmas.

Robert Gino brought a romantic sweep to the evening’s proceedings, opening his set with the wistful, haunting carousel waltz “Storybook.
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” The question of whether traditionally female songs would withstand a male interpretation provided an interesting thread; one that would be picked up later in the set, and one that revealed an artist who is at once intrigued and at ease with his own feminine duality, wrapped as it is within a commanding, manly exterior. An engaging and relaxed stage presence, Gino’s anecdotes of working as a therapist in a mental hospital demonstrated great skill as a witty raconteur. His rendition of Matt Alber’s “End of the World” lent the romantic arc a darker edge, somewhat effused by Gino’s warm country baritone. Ending with the show-stealing “Bring on the Men” from Jekyll and Hyde, the gender swap accommodated with suitably amended lyrics, Gino’s bold choice to flirt up close and personal with the men in attendance was enthusiastically received, and provided a rabble-rousing end to a heartfelt and quite personal set delivered with charm and panache.

Following a short interval, it was the turn of barrister and entrepreneur Shay Allie to take the stage. Joined by her songwriting collaborator Martin Savale on guitar, Allie’s bossa- and jazz-flavored ballads evoked bittersweet remembrance for lovelorn beaches and faded loves lost. Her lyrics, laced with the wisdom of genuine heartbreak, are at once rending and identifiable, and held us rapt. Overflowing with themes of yearning and self-discovery, her soft delivery bears a kinship to the gentle heartfelt vocals of Rumer, Amy Winehouse, and their own antecedent, Karen Carpenter. Clothed in white linen, the singer-songwriter commands an impressive figure, unafraid of her own vulnerability and with the courage to delve honestly and without bitterness into the painful recesses of her heart, digging amid the rubble to once in a while produce and hold up for examination the odd occasional jewel. I found myself very much looking forward to hearing more of this emerging songwriter’s growing catalogue.

From Minneapolis, Minnesota, Doug Anderson ended the evening with a touch of gentle comedy. With heart quite firmly on sleeve, his charmingly understated delivery paid dividends in appealing to the audience with an honest warmth and likeability that was hard to resist.
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By turns sentimental and tongue-in cheek, Anderson’s comedy arises from a natural inclination towards the bathetic, puncturing moments of elevated love with the revelation that the object of his affection is, in fact, a dog (in the Flaherty/Ahrens number “Times Like This”) and exploring the ironic duality of the feelings a lover might feel upon a partner’s departure “The Morning After.” Cutting a likeable and empathetic figure, Anderson’s rendition of “My Simple Christmas Wish” (“Rich, Famous and Powerful”) played up the amusing dichotomy of his meek stage presence with the monstrous ego of the song’s lyrics. Delivering his persona with the smart assurance of a seasoned professional, he is an engaging and skilled performer whose gravitas is ironically most forcefully bolstered by the art of gentle nuance; no mean feat on a stage accustomed to the larger-than-life figures of cabaret.

With a solid formula, and with no small thanks to the host and curator’s effortlessly professional showmanship, Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights show manages to capture a lovely variety of contrasting acts, making for yet another satisfying evening of highbrow cabaret entertainment.

Gavin Brock

In addition to working full-time as a primary school teacher in London, Gavin is a composer, lyricist and children's author. His Christmas fantasy adventure novel ' Alabaster Snowball and the Naughty List' is published by Troubador. In 2023, his mini-musical 'Krampus Night' was produced by Indieworks Theatre Company, New York and featured in season two of the multi-award winning Bite-Sized Broadway podcast. For more information, please visit www.gavinbrock.co.uk