Simon Green Sings Coward at Christmas: A Cabaret for Noel
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
December 16, 2008
In many ways, Simon Green Sings Coward at Christmas is the perfect show for those New Yorkers who are at odds with the holiday—due chiefly to its utter lack of Christmas songs. Not a one amongst the bunch and surprisingly fewer of the comedic songs than I had expected. Were it not for the fragrant Douglas pine at the side of the stage, one might not know it was Christmas time at all. But then again, it is hard to care about that as the show has one of the best attributes of the season—being a lovely gift to the audience, a simply packaged, high-quality gem of a Coward experience...and very affordable for the strength of performance you are getting.
Simon Green is a very concise, skillful performer within this work. While there is some patter, this is much simpler than the typical New York cabaret, with many of his succinct comments focused on the background of the songs or on Noël Coward himself. He is at his warmest when enjoying the sleuthing he and David Shrubsole (who provides strong and nuanced accompaniment on piano) put into finding the music for "There Have Been Songs in England" and when reading out snippets from the marvelous letters of Coward during "Why Must the Show Go On." On the night I was lucky enough to see the performance, Elaine Stritch was in the audience, an occasion which Simon Green appropriately noted while referring to Coward's show Sail Away. He is mindful of the entire room and backs the intimacy of the space with his specific and precise contact with audience members. The evening has the pleasant sensation of being among friends and enjoying the wonderful music of Coward with performers whose love for it is abundant.
If you are not familiar with the music of Noël Coward, Coward at Christmas is not a bad introduction and will give you a serious sense of Coward's music that aficionados will relish. While I liked the show enormously, I am more familiar with the comic songs and did miss them a bit, especially given Green's fine performance of the ones included. He did however a wonderful interpretation of "20th Century Blues" that more than made up for that subjective disappointment on my part.
While I can not fault the intimacy of the room and the pleasantness of the theatre staff, I do hope that 59E59 will consider opening the house a little earlier to accommodate the drink service and someday upgrade the chairs. While most people appeared quite comfortable, I found them very uncomfortable and although enjoying the show, I was somewhat grateful to be out of that chair at the end. But these are minor caveats as the show as a whole abounds with the rare generosity of spirit associated with this season and beautifully coupled with the considerable talents of Green and Shrubsole. Give yourself a gift and see it.