Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights: Glamour Girls

Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Highlights

Glamour Girls

Live at Zédel at the Crazy Coqs, London, UK, April 16, 2018

Review by Thanasis Kalantzis for Cabaret Scenes

(L-R) Priscilla Fere,
Tracy Coleman, Harold Sanditen, Evie Lake, Chessie Wood
Photo: Stuart Hull Photography

Harold Sanditen’s Open Mic Night, now in its fifth über-successful year Live at Zédel at the Crazy Coqs, is not just a welcoming space for singers and aspiring wannabes, but also a talent refinery or, better yet, distillery. Every so often, Sanditen brings together four artists carefully selected for his signature Open Mic Highlights evening, and throws a spotlight on them. Through three songs each, they have the opportunity to showcase their singing goods and introduce themselves to a wider audience. Always fun, always entertaining, last Monday’s evening could not have been an exception.

The evening started with Sanditen warming up the crowd with an outstanding arrangement, by pianist Michael Roulston, of “Let the Good Times Roll” (Sam Thread and Fleecie Moore). He then invited his four guests on stage and, after the introductions, they all sang a dazzling “All That Jazz” (Kander & Ebb).

Female imposter Evie Lake was the first to grace the stage. By day, she is a genealogist, helping people to find their actual roots, while, by night, she helps them get in touch with their emotional ones. She comes alive—with the help of her makeup box—after sunset when she can be…anybody. Lake has a fascination with the Hollywood dream factory, something that comes across in her song choices, singing style, and mannerisms. She started with a lovely, fast rendition of “It’s a Good Day” (Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour) and continued with the beautifully sung “Blue Star” (Edward Heyman and Victor Young), in which she confidently showcased her sweet and mellow vibrato and low range, influenced by all the greats she admires (Judy, Marilyn and, of course, Crawford) and concluded, justifying her passion for the man who’s maybe lazy, but all hers, with the upbeat “This Man” (Eddie Curtis). Her chat between songs was bubbly and funny, but, with all good intentions, in need of some innovative polishing so that it flows better. In the end, though, we all agreed with her assessment about herself, namely, that she’s simply “fa-bu-lous darling.”

Then it was Tracy Coleman, an East Ender through and through. Her education was by all accounts quite proper to the point where, when she decided to study performing arts, the Bishop of Southend was furious she was not going to become a missionary in far away Matabeleland. Nevertheless, it was a good choice and Coleman hasn’t looked back. The successful jazz singer has regular gigs at some of the most important rooms in London, has held together a seven-piece band called Plum Busby for the past eight years, has devised and performed several solo shows, and currently is a publican, an event organizer, and a pilates teacher. She started with the excellent choice of “In France They Kiss on Main Street” (Joni Mitchell), taking the room by storm with her range and powerful delivery. She then did the obscure narrative Music Hall song “Under the Bed” (of unknown composer and lyricist), a comic number that was assisted aplenty by her natural ease on stage. For her finale, she chose “Alfie” (Hal David and Burt Bacharach), a real showstopper not only vocally, but also because of the interjection of an amazing harmonica solo by talented Philip Achille that sent shivers through us. Her chat was warm, funny and sharp, and kept us interested throughout. She connected the dots between songs in an effortless manner and had some good stories to tell. The woman must be a hoot to have around at a dinner party!

Chessie Wood, who followed, was the youngest in the group. Actually, she is still in school, due to graduate this July from the Academy of Contemporary Music in Vocal Performance, with an honors degree. She grew up listening to jazz and she considers Etta James and Melody Gardot as her main inspirations. She perfectly hit all the notes in “You Sent Me Flying” (Amy Winehouse and Felix Howard), a becoming tribute to the singing style of the late, sorely missed Winehouse. She then gave us a beautiful, new rendition of the timeless “At Last” (Mack Gordon and Harry Warren), and lifted the mood with her last selecton, “No Diggity” (Teddy Riley/Bill Withers/Chauncey Hannibal/Lynise Walter/William Stewart/Richard Vick.)

To put it simply, Wood is an amazing singer. Her voice is precise, clear and versatile and reveals a level of maturity that’s beyond her young age. On the other hand, her chat was non-existent. She did not share any information about herself nor try to connect the songs. Instead, she kept informing us about what she was going to sing next. I don’t know if that was due to shyness or lack of preparation, but I did wonder if acting lessons wouldn’t be beneficial in helping her to improve her comfort and presence on stage.

The last to entertain us was Priscilla Fere, who’s planning to be the biggest-ever faux queen (female drag queen) and we can easily see why. Highly confident and side-splittingly funny, Fere is pure joy to watch. Creator of the fictional character Priscilla Queen of Deszerts, the curvaceous lady has a story or two to tell as she hopes to become the UK’s answer to Wendy Williams, with a pinch of Oprah, and host her own talk show. For the time being, apart from her stage career, she is working on her entrepreneurial skills by promoting a vegan baby food inspired by her one year-old son. She first sang “Un-break my Heart” (Diane Warren), which I found very slow and a strange choice for an opening number. Even though, it climaxed well, but, all in all, the song failed to take off. Nevertheless, she came back setting the mood right with a great rendition of the hymn “I Will Survive” (Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren) which was served with a slice of her own, hilarious, parody lyrics. For her last song, “I’m Every Woman” (Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson), she brought onstage her Queen of Deszerts persona while a young man offered a tray of slices of dessert to the audience. Fere has the effervescent personality of a real chat show host and is completely comfortable center stage. She also possesses a really good voice that is somehow under-explored, as some notes fell flat while others were unreachable. Maybe a voice teacher could help her bring it under control and unleash its full strength and potential.

In the end, Sanditen invited all the performers back on stage and, together, in admittedly great sync, treated us to another astonishing arrangement by Roulston:  “I Hear Music” (Frank Loesser and Burton Lane) with beautiful harmonies.

The glamorous evening was a huge success, and the enthusiastic response from the full house was a testimony to that. I can’t but wish that talent-nurturing and highly rewarding evenings like this will keep on coming.

The singers were superbly supported by the maestro himself, Michael Roulston, on piano, Robert Rickenberg on bass, and Emma Taylor on drums.

Thanasis Kalantzis

Thanasis started reviewing for Cabaret Scenes in 2012. He started by reviewing primarily jazz and cabaret artists visiting from the U.S., but these days, he concentrates on British talent. Recently, he added covering musical theater to his duties. He was born in the heart of rural Greece in 1967. He studied Archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, worked as an excavator in the prehistoric town of Akrotiri, Santorini, and then spent two years on the beautiful island of Crete excavating a Roman village, among other sites. In 1991 he moved to London to study for his MA in Archaeology at University College London thinking that, upon completion, he’d return to Greece and continue with his excavation work. Nevertheless, he gave this amazingly diverse city a go, and started working with various companies, including the Horniman Museum, Sotheby’s and, most recently, the Big Lottery Fund, the organization that allocates lottery funds to arts and charities. His been in London for 26 years, and is happily married to his husband and runs a small, successful business.