Franz Bloem is a Dutchman with curiosity and without pretense. He came to cabaret relatively late in his life. As a young man he drove in a rattletrap car from Holland to India and Nepal where he found an interest in Buddhism. Speaking English, French, Dutch, German and Yiddish enabled him to earn his living as a tour leader for travelers – first in New York and later in dozens of other countries. His travelers encouraged him to serenade them in venues where they stayed – often in fine hotels where he would be supported by an orchestra. His singing brought him unanticipated joy and, as best I can tell, he has abandoned the tourism trade for the performing life. Bloem performs with some frequency in Holland and New York and has built something of a following in Southeast Asia; indeed he boasts among his home towns, ChiangMai, Thailand, as well as New York, New York.
Bloem is a fan and proponent of Charles Aznavour, and sings in a style reminiscent of Aznavour and Brel – with an apparent tremolo and all emotions worn on his sleeve. I started a skeptic, given the overt sentimentality of some of the material – “You Never Walk Alone” (O. Hammerstein II and R. Rodgers), “Help is on the Way” (D. Friedman), “Non Rien de Rien” (C. Dumont, M. Vauclaire), “What’ll I Do” (I. Berlin)) – but half way through the show I was won over. Despite a history spotted with life’s occasional setbacks, Bloem voices appreciation for all that he has lived through and for all the people he has encountered along the way. Indeed, on this warm, Memorial Day eve, he invited the entire audience to return with him to his West Village apartment for cocktails in the garden following the show, repeating his address to be sure all who wished to do so would attend. The cabaret community at least will understand that ‘he is who he is, and he makes no excuses.’ And for this occasionally jaded New Yorker, he was both exotic and charming.
In addition to a sonorous voice and emotional sincerity, Bloem brought to the stage his persona of Maxime in an elegant black gown with a blood red, feather boa. Maxime sang “Falling in Love Again” (F. Hollander and S. Lerner) and “What Makes a Man a Man” (C. Aznavour). There was no uncomfortable excess about Maxime and, while there was some laughter upon her initial appearance, for the most part the laughter was with her rather than at her.
Bloem also displayed a sense of humor and, while eschewing political commentary, appropriately invoked our current state of confusion and disarray when singing “Galaxy” (E. Idle and J. Du Prez, but known, if at all, as originating with Monty Python). For those less familiar with the lyric, it concludes with:
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.
Bloem greeted most patrons before the show, chatted with those stage-side during the show and displayed a general concern that all patrons should be enjoying themselves. It was perhaps a bit too much fussing for some but sat comfortably on Bloem’s shoulders, wholly consistent with the tenor of the evening. The show was rewarding musically, emotionally and philosophically; I found it wholly engaging.
Photos by Fred R. Cohen. To see more of Fred’s photos, go to his website.
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
May 27, 2016