Frans Bloem: Kabarett Beyond Borders

Frans Bloem

Kabarett Beyond Borders

Shelter Theater, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, March 24, 2018

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards for Cabaret Scenes

Frans Bloem

Five years ago Frans Bloem needed dental work and made his first visit to San Miguel de Allende, a very old Mexican town that has been adopted by artists and expats alike. He now calls it home between January and March. I caught the final performance of his Kabarett Beyond Borders at the Shelter Theatre before he was to head back to Manhattan.

This season, Bloem was accompanied by music director Uriel Oroz, who hails from Mexico City. They met in Mexico and have since performed and recorded together in New York. Bloem invited the very talented Oroz to share his own musical story, which started in church at age 9, and then led to playing in clubs.

Bloem is a seasoned cabaret pro, having led an early life of street singing in Paris followed by visits to over 52 countries singing in five languages. He opened with a joyful “Here Comes Spring” (“Y’a d’la joie”) (Charles Trenet/Michel Emer) in French and English, and followed it with “Let Yourself Go” (Irving Berlin), getting in some Fred Astaire moves that left him winded in the San Miguel altitude.

My favorite of the 26-song evening was “It Will Be My Day” (Charles Aznavour), a cabaret singer’s tango about a man who dreams of being a star, watches the years pass, has to take third-rate bookings to keep working, but still believes in “the gimmick to lift me from darkness.” The story, the reflection of time the eternal optimism was all his. The following number, “La Bohème” (Aznavour), called to his early life knowing you can’t bring back the past.

Bloem shared his experience losing his apartment in the Hurricane Sandy storm as introduction to “Song from Holland” (Ede Staal) with the haunting lyrics, “you’re born alone, you die alone and in between is the life you live/the love you get and the love you give.” Lennon and McCartney must have borrowed it for “The End” from  Abbey Road.

The song that I am still thinking about is a simple “I Garden Avocado Tree,” which is the “opposite of me; it doesn’t move and yet is free.” He introduced the song with a story about his friend Dennis, whom he calls daily because Dennis doesn’t leave his New York apartment. Who’s the tree? Who’s the me? Poignant. Mysterious.

The first set wrapped up with a medley of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”/”Help Is on the Way” (Rodgers & Hammerstein/Rise Against); a jazzy “That’s Life” (Dean Kay/Kelly Gordon); a song about the statistics of the galaxy; “What a Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele/George David Weiss) and “She” (Aznavour), dedicated to his new love sitting in the front row.

Enter surprise guest artist: Maxim—Bloem in full drag. With the exception of the Phyllis Diller wig that hung too close to her eyes, she was French burlesque class with a beautiful voice à la Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose” and Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It)” (Friedrich Hollaender‎). She got the audience going with “Where the Boys Are” (Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield) and then took a more serious turn with “What Makes a Man and Man” (Aznavour) and “I Am What I Am” (Jerry Herman). I didn’t feel the same raw truth as when Bloem performs as himself, but Maxim is a bold choice— perhaps the gimmick that a cabaret singer longs to find. After a piano solo of “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld), which Oroz mastered on a very small electric keyboard, and a bit of a costume pause, Bloem returned with “I Don’t Care,” the perfect answer to whatever you thought about Maxim.

He then had a half-dozen closing numbers, any of which would have sent the audience home feeling more than satisfied. He has mastered a treasure chest of material and included “Yesterday When I Was Young” (Aznavour), “I Love Paris” (Cole Porter)—which he changed to “I Love San Miguel” —and “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal).

There is no problem with audience intimacy in the Shelter’s 52-seat house and Bloem milked the eye contact, even kissing cheeks and hands with women in the front row. He is poised, confident and moves like Marcel Marceau. I found him charismatic, suave and easy to like.

His press release said he is “famed for his unrivaled interpretation of chansonnier Charles Aznavour, who personally authorized him to sing his classics.” He has that genius and timeless quality and I expect he will be happily singing the rest of his days. And, if you are a cabaret singer who longs to check out San Miguel de Allende, the intimate Shelter Theater is looking for you.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.