… cabaret with Coward …

Not so much “conversations” with Noel Coward — think cabaret.

Life is for Living, Conversations with Coward, 59E59Theaters December 13, 2016 - January 1, 2017 Noel Coward cabaret evning

David Shrubsole on piano and Simon Green performing Life is for Living. Photo Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016.

Seating is at intimate round tables.  Simon Green, tall, slim, totally charming and with a wonderful wry smile sings Noel Coward’s songs, with a few by other songwriters, and songs developed from some of his letters and other writings by Green and beautifully turned to music and played by the exciting pianist David Shrubsole.

What a civilized intimacy these performers create!  The cabaret mode is apt – there’s almost nothing Noel Coward, an actor and prolific and successful playwright, didn’t do in theater and that includes, in and around the 1j950’s famously appealing cabaret performances.

Particularly compelling is the way the darker shades of Coward’s spirit emerge. Though not to the manner born, Coward loved associating himself with the upper classes, and hobnobbing with others who were, at the time, at least as famous as he was.  He’s often thought of in terms of a style rather than substance, of surface rather than depth.  But in the choices of material, and in the nuance and ambiguity with which Simon Green delivers the songs, one glimpses more of Coward than the man with in the dressing gown, an elegant cigarette holder between his fingers.  Shading in a two-dimensional persona, they reveal Coward as a man of resonant and eerie depths.

Noel Coward's life ... not an open book. Simon Green singing in Life is for Living. Photo Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

Noel Coward’s life … not an open book. Simon Green singing in Life is for Living. Photo Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

A brilliant interlude is Green’s rendition of the song “I went to a Marvelous Party,” music and lyrics by Coward. The early incidents at the Gatsby-like party seem amusing – first we laugh, and then we laugh because we feel we should, but as successive vignettes become more exaggerated, with creep toward the grotesque, the tragic ironies emerge and our laughter stutters..

Green also takes on a few songs by others, including Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, and these immediately seem more musical and less philosophical than Coward’s songs.  I’m taking a guess, with some clues from the patter, that Green and Shrubsole hope Berlin’s and the Gershwins’ songs may seem lightweight compared to Coward’s, but oh no, that’s not the impact.  Berlin’s “Always,” the Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay” – these are superb here, delivered with Green’s particular delicate amusement, and elsewhere.

It takes some daring to juxtapose Coward “The Master,” as he’s called, with the masters. Taking on that challenge works – Green and Shrubsole illuminate the particular value of Coward’s talent and bring us the pleasures he holds in store for his listeners – a pleasure we wouldn’t have without them.

Life is for Living is a stimulating, thought provoking and delightful evening of cabaret.  Hearing what Noel Coward thinks, says and sings in his particular venue is a rare treat.

Simon Green performs, with David Shrubsole, Musical Director, at the piano.  The work was created and compiled by Green and Shrubsole, with research by Jason Morell.  It plays at 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan through January 1, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.