Review: Zoe Francis at Crazy Coqs

Zoe Francis brought the songs of Blossom Dearie to Crazy Coqs in her new show, Blossom Time. Leon Nock revelled in the top-line entertainment

A hundred years ago give or take (1921 but who’s counting) the Schubert brothers, J.J. and Lee, amassed a young fortune producing the show Blossom Time (music: Sigmund Romberg, lyrics: Dorothy Donnelly) initially on Broadway and then sending out six road companies.

Being the Schuberts, the scenery and costumes were on the utility side of lavish but that didn’t prevent the good burghers of Upper Sandusky and Kalamazoo flocking to the box office because what they craved was precisely what Blossom Time delivered: pure entertainment, which is precisely what the Schubert’s Blossom Time has in common with the Blossom Time that Zoe Francis (pictured right) laid on the good burghers of Crazy Coqs on 21 February.

That entertainment factor is, of course, the only thing the two have in common; the Blossom Time to which the Schuberts devoted six permanent road companies was an operetta based loosely on the love life of Franz Schubert, no relation, whilst the Blossom Time Zoe Francis set before the Crazy Coqs comprised 14 songs associated with the late Blossom Dearie at least half a dozen of which have their own pages in the Great American Songbook.

Because taste is her middle name the evening reeked with class and style. The four performers, Zoe, vocals, Jim Mullen, guitar, Barry Green, piano, and Mick Hutton, bass, were as polished as Fred Astaire’s tap shoes and as solid as the case against Hitler. Jim, who happens to be married to Zoe, needs no introduction given that he enjoys the long-standing admiration and respect of jazz buffs but Zoe has been woefully under exposed to the connoisseurs out there; there are too many female vocalists working the same side of the street but all with higher profiles and lower standards (let’s hear it for hype) which makes Zoe something of a breath of spring on the jazz, supper club, cabaret scene, a great interpreter of the Great American Songbook albeit with her own spin on the standards.

Around my house the Great American Songbook is bedside reading and I tend to get a tad antsy if – as Zoe did here – someone walks through an intense number like Lonely Town or takes something like The Lies Of Handsome Men at too fast a clip but these are minor beefs (and she was, after all, Xeroxing Blossom) when set against what she did right.

First off, she knows that back in the day the writers often threw in a bonus in the shape of a verse that served to set up the 32 bars that were the main event and at Crazy Coqs she laid four on us (ironically Carolyn Leigh wrote a tasty verse for When In Rome, Zoe’s first number, but we didn’t get to hear it). On the other hand she hit every one of Irving Caesar’s internal rhymes on the verse of Tea For Two and for that she can be forgiven anything. That’s the one where every vocalist and his Uncle Max sings "… darling this placis a lovers oasis where life’s weary chasis …" Mercifully, Zoe reads it correctly as "… darling this place, is a lovers oasis, where life’s weary chase is unknown". See, you’re not supposed to notice the rhyme - the clue is in the word "internal".

When I was extracting the last full measure of thousand island dressing from my salad days, vocalists – male, female, groups – used to stand centre stage and just … sing – then, alas, they discovered their inner Mexican Jumping Bean and any meaning the song had went out the window. Zoe Francis restores the vocalist to her/his/their rightful place centre stage just to one side of the lyric. Hallelujah.

By the time you read this the gig at Crazy Coqs will be lost in the ether but nil desperandum, its drift has been preserved on CD with the same four performers and almost (My Attorney Bernie has been replaced by Once Upon A Summertime) the same programme, and a new title, Remembering Blossom Dearie.

Do yourself a favour, get hold of a copy and wallow in top-of-the-line entertainment.

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