“The British invasion” Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano point out, did not, in fact, begin with the Beatles. Long before arrival of The Fab Four, songs from music halls and London’s West End found their way across the pond. This upbeat show is an appreciation of material that enriched our canon. Songs, Fasano says, for Lady Mary and her grandchildren. (Referring to Lady Mary Crawley in PBS’s Downton Abbey.)
A jaunty opening bookends past and present with Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” One can practically feel the mood in the club improve. Comstock then offers “London By Night” (Carroll Coates): Most people say they love London by day/But lovers love London by night…painting with his voice and piano. Fasano’s “These Foolish Things” (Eric Maschwitz/Jack Strachey) arrives in an our song interpretation. The vocalist takes her time, allowing each warm emotion to expand into the air. Control is pristine.
A wry “Everything Stops for Tea” (Al Hoffman/Maurise Sigler/Al Goodhart) is cited as an example of the British Songbook seeing a lighter side to life. Songs that take that point of view about immigration, trade, depression, stalking, sexism, and alcoholism follow, a few apt lines each.
From The West End, we’re treated to Comstock’s tandem “Who Can I Turn To?” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley- The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd) and Lionel Bart’s “Where Is Love?” (Oliver.) The performer adds sweetness to melancholy in a splendid low key rendition.
Out of the pop world, Fasano delivers Tony Hatch’s “I Know a Place” (with a few lines from his “Downtown”) and “I Only Want to Be with You” (Mike Hawker/Ivor Raymonde). Hatch’s songs are accompanied by a practiced Frug. The Hawker/ Raymonde is treated without flippancy in a more sophisticated arrangement adding appeal.
“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (Eric Maschwitz/ Manning Sherwin) is wistful but not wispy in these skilled hands. Fasano shares the piano bench with her husband. Traditionally a solo, the lyric suddenly becomes shared nostalgia. Both vocalists had evidently recorded the song and decided after 12 years of marriage it was time to perform it together. The last verse floats down like a feather in the wind. He kisses her shoulder.
Pairing the eclectic “The Wind in the Willows” (Vivian Ellis/Desmond Carter) popularized by the great Leslie Hutchenson with Sting’s “Fields of Gold” is sheer Comstock/Fasano. Expect the unexpected. Comstock’s version of the first is lovely. Fasano sings the second shoulders back, a signature stance when she’s serious. Gestures come from further away gaining territory and importance. Fingers splay for emphasis. The “character” is stilled by overwhelming emotion. “We’ll Meet Again” (Ross Parker/ Hughie Charles) showcases the innately cool talent of jazz bassist Sean Smith. Oddly, Noel Coward’s iconic “London Pride” is arranged as a sashay robbing it of gravity.
In Billy Reid’s “It’s a Pity to Say Goodnight”: It’s a pity to say goodnight/Because I want you to hold me tight/But if gotta go home, you gotta go home/Give me a goodnight kiss…Fasano make’s “howzabout” a literate word. Flirting, she bounces, adding a bit of hip and shoulder action.
The evening closes with a beautiful version of “If Love Were All” (Noel Coward). …Cares would be ended if I knew that he (pause)/Wanted (sigh) to have me near…
Photos by David Rosen
Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain
Barbara Fasano &, Eric Comstock with Sean Smith-Bass
Birdland 315 West 44th Street
December 20, 2016
ONE MORE SHOW Thursday December 22