Liza Pulman Sings Streisand
12 June 2017
The final performance of Pulman’s brilliant Barbara-themed cabaret rolled out last night, to tumultuous cheers and thunderous applause. The thrilling impact achieved here belied the modest dimensions of the room: in the 90-minute or so set, we were transported – totally – from the little round former billiards room in a Piccadilly basement and into the realm of big Broadway theatres, even bigger Hollywood sound stages, and the arenas of capacity filled celebrity concerts the world over, where ‘the voice’ of La Streisand reigns supreme. Singing along with the swinging six-piece band of Tom Mark (bass), Dan Day (drums), Richard Hargreave (reeds) and Steve Walker (trumpet), and all under the smooth tutelage of MD, arranger and grand, grand piano, Joseph Atkins, Liza P once again demonstrated her position at the top of what the nation has to offer in terms of classy, commercial cabaret entertainment.
We kicked off as we meant to go on, with a brisk ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, quickly fusing it with witty banter, and then merging deftly into a slow gumbo shuffle arrangement of ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ (the arrestingly unusual choice of treatment being something of a Pulman-and-Atkins trademark). Then we got a helping of the best home-made ‘Miss Marmelstein’, and I can echo everything Liza told us about that particular debut: I’ve got a copy of the original cast recording at home, and still today this number leaps out of Harold Rome’s score for ‘I Can Get It For You Wholesale’ with the freshness and funniness that has delighted audiences ever since. The light mood continued into another ready-to-wear number: ‘Sam, You Made The Pants Too Big’, and then she really began to put her amazingly warm sostenuto line to devastating use in her own work – and Oscar-winning hit – ‘Love, Soft As An Easy-Chair’.
Andy Taylor’s fine guitar was the sole accompaniment for a delicate-as-an-orchid rendition of Harold Arlen’s ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ from another little-known show, ‘House Of Flowers’, and a hypnotic lullaby it proved. Then the bass slapped into action for a much sassier ‘Down With Love’, before another lush ballad, ‘I Stayed Too Long At The Fair’. This was an airy, popular and not-to-be-taken-too-seriously selection, but nonetheless, a catalogue of wonders reimagined for us with sensitivity and flair. And with that, we launched into a smart New York medley: ‘New York State Of Mind’; ‘You’ll Never Know’; ‘Oh, My Man I Love Him So’; and ‘My Man’, all buildings to a spectacular first half finale in true showstopper style.
After the break, we had another cheeky treat, a pulsing bossa nova ‘On A Clear Day’, with a truly handsome full-band arrangement driving it along, before a much more careful and pointedly enunciated ‘Second-Hand Rose’. And then, ah, the wonders of ‘Mem’ries’, with just the piano and – I think, but please correct me if I got this wrong – gorgeously warm cor anglais obligato: here, Pulman’s breath control really showed its power. How long does it take a singer to develop that stamina, that power, that mastery? Well, ask Liza, because she is right where you need to be to have this wondrous accomplishment of being able to bewitch us with sheer vocal virtuosity put the service of emotional expression and giving the words of the lyrics their full, precise clarity and weight.
‘Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now’ took us into more frivolous Fats Waller territory in a thumping trad jazz shake down, before ‘The Way He Makes Me Feel’ from ‘Yentl’ took us into altogether much richer terrain: here, I think – again – an Eb clarinet was the perfect klezmer accompaniment to this story of shtetl life. And then that took us into the artless banjo strumming (thank you, Mr Taylor) of ‘Honey Pie’, before we sidled into a so, so deceptively simple ‘I’ll Be Home’ by Randy Newman, poised on a lofty precipice, but never losing its grip on the heart. Next came the accordion of Mr Atkins to give the right Gallic feel to Charles Trenais’ ‘I Wish You Love’.
Only the truth, the simple truth, of Neil Diamond’s ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ could follow that, before a spellbinding, growing out of nothing and smashing the walls down, outing for ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’. If anybody was still feeling down because of recent events in town, THIS would have blown the last memories of that right away. And then, after the first ovation, we got a perfect parting gift in the shape of a lovely ‘People’. This was in every respect a sincere tribute to a really remarkable artist, given by one of the very best acts out there.