The Sting arrangement of “Englishman in New York” weaves through Christian Holder’s autobiographical show as it must with his peripatetic life. Sporting a bowler, umbrella tucked under one arm, the lithe entertainer begins his chronicle in London with the gift of a model theater he imaginatively outfits for plastic ballerinas. Swan Lake arms close the parenthesis. “London Pride” (Noel Coward) rides tandem.
Holder is, from the opening, extremely stylized, not just in graceful, exacting movement, but also exaggerated enunciation. I believe the artist, despite overstated manner, but wonder why the directorial decision was made.
“I was encouraged to be inventive. My father would say… `Use Your Imagination’” (Cole Porter). A childhood filled with culture and class – he had his own bespoke dinner jacket, bow tie and red-lined cape – takes us to a vaudevillian “Spread a Little Happiness” (Vivian Ellis/Clifford Grey) replete with straw boater.
It was Chita Rivera in West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim) that lit a fire under young Holder. “I said to myself, Christian, Boy, boy, crazy boy, get cool boy…” (Song lead-ins are clever.) A dance turn of “America” is fiery. That he manages to choreograph tight and smooth for such a small stage is an accomplishment. This is, in fact, a career dancer. At 15, he moved to New York establishing a career first with Martha Graham, then The Joffrey Ballet.
Holder’s experience of the 1960s follows, “the plight of black Americans and their struggle, the War in Vietnam….” Here’s where the evening lifts off. An extraordinary take on Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” begins like an a capella spiritual. It feels as if we’re listening to centuries of bigotry and repression. Arrangement and performance are wrenching. Drums march. Holder looks hunted. Performance which before seemed inflated, works wonderfully… from now on.
To an outsider, those years appeared professionally glamorous. Holder tells us about exhausting work, being constantly on the road. These are facts, not complaints. “The Glamorous Life” (Stephen Sondheim) arrives droll. A deftly chosen “We Were Dancing” (Noel Coward) follows: We were dancing/And the gods must have found it entrancing/For they smiled…
Exhilarating disco/club days are cinematic. “We partied hard, but fortune held our futures and lives in a vindictive grip…” Cue the AIDS crisis. “Why?” and “Let’s Stay Together” (Annie Lennox) are dynamic, personal. Holder conjures a phoenix struggling to rise from ashes. The song is powerful without raised volume or instrumental dissonance.
At the encouragement of Ruth Leon (journalist/author/then booker of London’s Crazy Coqs) Holder finds his way to cabaret. Two Duke Ellington songs mellow the atmosphere. His handsome, rubber face is immensely expressive, phrasing his own; dancing fluid and cool. We close with “If Love Were All” (Noel Coward) including the rare verse. The artist offers parlando poetry; elegant and understated, vibrato hiding at the back of his throat. A unique presentation.
Photos by Stephen Hanks
Christian Holder- At Home and Abroad
Reed Robins MD/Piano; Bass-Steve Doyle, Drums- Joe Choroszewski
Directed by Ian Embleton
Laurie Beechman Theater in The West Bank Café
407 West 42nd Street