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The City Club
Verdict: Exhuberant boogie musical
The City Club is about love and corruption in 30s American club life. There are sexy lads and bountiful dames. But most of all, it's music - 90 minutes of boogie-woogie, blues and jazz from a tight 5-piece band and four vocalists. There's an overall cast of 14.
Charles Davenport founds The City Club to prove a bar can be run straight. Alcohol's served undiluted, there's no protection money, no drugs, no gambling. All his purity of intention is progressively defiled as corruption infects every relationship - leaving, at the end, nothing. It's a story-line the blues were invented to illustrate.
Unseen chief gangster Dutch sends his henchman to offer protection. Police officer The Lieutenant eliminates him and takes over the club. Singer Rose gets drugs from sax-player Slim and gives sex to bar-tender Doc who's trying to be honest. Pianist Parker Brown exudes deceit under the guise of honesty, discreetly spreading poisonous gossip.
Lily and Rose sing, dance naughtily in black underwear and seduce the Mayor, and others. Hostess Crystal tries to keep Charles from despair. Prince Royal sings huskily and plays dangerously with his gun.
The Lieutenant installs singer Madeleine, a mysterious person who guards her inner self from the intrusion of feeling. Jake from The Clarion photographs and scribbles, usually for a sexual payoff.
Scott Baker brings a solid feeling of menace to the Lieutenant - an authority figure laced with degeneration. Emma Choy gives a sultry elegance to Madeleine and takes lead vocal on some of the songs.
James Compton excels as pianist Parker Brown. He delivers astonishingly gifted piano in a range of styles, and some poignant vocal work - especially in his tour-de-force finale piano solo/vocal of the classic Goin' Down Slow.
Victoria George charms as Lily - the backing singer with curly blonde hair and pre-Raphaelite beauty. Her fine backing vocals and dance delight. The remarkable Ronnie Golden stuns as decadent Prince Royale, and the seedy mayor. Known well as a stand-up comic, Ronnie Golden displays here his dirty, raunchy jazz-voice - glorious.
Philip Hayden gives Charles Davenport a touching vulnerability. His sinuous glides across stage embody the lounge-lizard - exactly right for the period. Nick Heanen delights as sleaze-bag nerd journalist Jake - making the character ripple with cowardly decadence. Neil Sheffield invests honest(ish) Doc with a transparent integrity; his Tough has an exciting level of menace.
Fiona Staniland creates a pretty and endearing Crystal, gorgeous in her shimmering evening gown, strong on blues in her lead vocal.
The set is the club, with the audience as patrons sitting at café-cabaret-style tables. This close integration of audience and action adds to its immediacy.
Though the American accents are consistently awful across the cast, this may be deliberate. With America currently the world's most hated nation, the actors may be flagging the fact that they're British and only pretending.
The gifted 5-piece band - James Compton (piano); J Mac McDermid (trumpet); Tom Cat Mansi (bass); Stuart Tosh (drums); Julian Tucker (saxophone) - who also act as themselves, give City Club its musical foundation.
Elegantly stealing the show is the remarkable Gemma Zirfas. Her Rose (the classically beautiful backing singer with curly blonde hair) effortlessly steals each of her scenes. The combination of innocence and depravity she's able - as an actor with the rare gift of subtle understatement - to evoke in Rose is a constant thread of delight. A fine dancer and singer, her astonishing lead vocal of Candy Man, raddled with corruption and musical élan, is the musical highlight of the show.
Songs include in order of playing: Jump Jivin'. Band - The City Knights. Vocal - Prince Royale. Backing - Rose & Lily. The Joint Is Jumpin'. Band. Vocal - Prince. I Can't Kick This Habit. Band. Vocal - Rose. Stagger Lee. Band. Vocal, Prince. Backing - Lily, Rose. For You My Love (I'd Do Most Anything). Band. Vocal - Madeleine. Falling In Love With Me. Band. Vocal - Madeleine. Let The Boogie Woogie Roll. Band. Vocal - Madeleine. Candy Man. Band. Vocal - Rose. Bad Blood. Band. Vocal - Parker.
I'm Your Doctor Baby. Band. Vocal - Parker. Dirty Boogie. Band. Vocals - Lily, Madeleine, Rose. Sittin' At My Window / Looking Out At The Rain / I Know You're Going To Miss Me. Band. Vocal - Crystal. Goin' Down Slow. Piano Solo / Vocal - Parker. Band - The City Knights: James Compton (piano); J Mac McDermid (trumpet); Tom Cat Mansi (bass); Stuart Tosh (drums); Julian Tucker (saxophone).
Cast Credits (alpha order):
Scott Baker - Lieutenant. Emma Choy - Madeleine ('Maddy). James Compton - Parker Brown (Pianist). Victoria George - Lily. Ronnie Golden - Prince (Vocalist)/Mayor. Philip Hayden - Charles Davenport (Proprietor 'Chaz'). Nick Heanen - Jake (Clarion Journalist). J Mac McDermid - Trumpet Player. Tom Cat Mansi - Bass Player. Neil Sheffield - Doc/Tough. Fiona Staniland - Crystal. Stuart Tosh - Drums Player. Julian Tucker - Slim. Gemma Zirfas - Rose.
Company Credits: Writer - Glenn M Stewart. Song Credits - (Various). Costume Design - Mia Flodquist. Set Design - Lucien Mansell. Lighting Design - Hugo Beaver. Production Manager - Nick Lavender. Company Manager - Chloe Hughes. Press/Marketing - Paul Savident. Choreography - Geoff Hennessy. Musical Director - James Compton. Director - Michael Fidler. Company - Roll Your Own.
reviewed Wednesday 11 August 04 / Pleasance Dome / AceDome
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