A LETTER FROM LONDON: Helen Mirren as The Queen, a Mercer and Short Memorial and More

By Ruth Leon
28 May 2013

Mabel Mercer

Talking of the heart of theatreland, regular readers know that I'm becoming ever more involved with cabaret, as the programme director of Le Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly Circus. A steady stream of singers is criss-crossing the Atlantic, filling the void left by the closing of the iconic centre of cabaret in New York, the Oak Room at the Algonquin. All the fabulous American cabaret artists are appearing here in turn and British audiences are getting to see what New Yorkers have long loved—the pure joy of a great song sung by a great singer.

Such a singer was the immortal Mabel Mercer, such a musician was Bobby Short, and, for those of us fortunate enough to have seen them, they epitomised the song magicians. There are a few performers—Nijinsky, Gigli, Paderewski, Gielgud—whose names conjure up not only the era in which they lived but the essence of the art they practiced. They were, and remain, legends. So when the Mabel Mercer Foundation, which presides over all of New York cabaret, gives a memorial concert to celebrate Mercer and Short on the 45th anniversary of their famous Town Hall concert in 1968, everybody wants to participate. The line-up is a roll-call of today's star cabaret singers, nearly all of whom have appeared, or are booked to appear, at Le Crazy Coqs, and their brief is to perform contemporary interpretations of the songs made famous by the two legends.

Two other notable London-to-New York transfers to celebrate are the wonderful Red Velvet. Lolita Chakrabarti's award-winning play is about Ira Aldredge, the first black American actor to be cast as Othello in 1833, in a theatrical London that was not ready for his realistic acting nor for his ethnicity. Chakrabarti's husband, Adrian Lester, is currently playing Othello in London at the National Theatre to sold-out audiences and cheers from the critics. He played Ira Aldredge with a heart-breaking intensity in London and will move with the produciton to New York. Not to be missed.


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