Louise Gold...By Appointment - Short Version
Lauderdale House, Highgate, Cabaret In The House, 20 November 2005
Review By Emma Shane © November 2005
How can one begin to describe a show so full of Joie de vivre, enthusiasm and above all enough love to brighten up the darkest day, with a glittering artiste who cheers us when we’re blue, who brings the sun in view? Really a very appropriate cabaret for a cold dark November, as it is full of warmth and sparkle.
Master of Ceremonies Valerie Cutko started the evening off with a spoof of Comedy Tonight rewritten as Cabaret Tonight. Mostly this was pretty good, and quite amusing. The Chekov line immediately made me think of the time I saw The Cherry Orchard. However some lines did rather jar, most notably “Agit prop tomorrow, cabaret tonight”. Well the star cabaret artiste of this evening happens to have been a child of the agit prop of The Workers Theatre Movement, who seems to have endeavoured to fulfil that destiny by puppeteering, on Spitting Image.
On with the first act, Robert Archibald, making his cabaret debut, was definitely one of the best supporting acts I have ever seen at Lauderdale. He was quite interesting, and certainly a very talented singer, even if he could only sing in either his own Scottish or an American accent. He sang well, and the audience definitely warmed to him. I have seen supporting acts at Lauderdale where there was a slight air of boredom, with the audience was clearly waiting for the big star attraction. But that was not the case here. He succeeded in holding the audience’s attention.
The second act opened with
the Master Of Ceremonies singing some moneyless love song. This was quite ok. I
noticed that the flower arrangement is still on the piano, so evidently Louise
Gold ain’t going to attempt any piano-climbing this time. Well after what
happened last time she tried piano-climbing at Lauderdale (Hampstead &
Highgate Arts Festival 2002) perhaps that’s just as well! Valerie Cutko
proceeded to introduce the second half brilliantly with some well deserved
praise for Louise Gold; that I, and I think nearly everyone present
would thoroughly agree with. The rather thorough list of Ms Gold’s major
credits let the audience know what they are getting, and I think in many ways
that was a very good thing, because it meant that the entire audience were well
aware of just who the star artiste is, and therefore appreciated her
performance accordingly. For example when towards the end she brought out her
puppets, everyone knew that they were witnessing a performance from a true
mistress of the craft. However, the nicest touch of all about Valerie’s
introduction, was to mention that Louise Gold is not only very talented
but also much loved by her fellow performers. And it is absolutely true,
whenever her name comes up her colleagues nearly always remark on how nice she
is. At the last minute, Valerie also remembered to introduce the pianist &
Part of the way through the opening number, Louise rushed through the audience with a cup of miniature chocolates, which she distributed randomly through the audience. Now standing on the stage she informs us, that the day before, when doing a run-through of the act (in her mother’s front room), she realised” it was a very bad idea to give out chocolate at the beginning of a cabaret act, because people will want to unwrap and eat them”. Suddenly becoming very commanding she says “If anyone is going to unwrap them would the please do so NOW or put them away”. The audience obey her, of course. Commanding she might be, but right away she also connects well with the audience. She has a nice personality, and looks stunning in her new costume and characteristic hairstyle.
On to another composer’s work, Stephen Sondheim,
the ever tactful Louise has to be a little careful describing Sondheim as
“possibly the greatest living composer” “Possibly” echoes the pianist,
reminding us that the
One of Louise Gold’s great gifts is an ability to totally switch style at the drop of a hat (or in her case even the flick of a hand). Lovers For A Day (by Marguerite Monnot), is a complete contrast from the last number. Although the verse is quite sad, it has a hugely powerful torchy chorus, which Louise’s big rich unmiked voice tore into. Jason played quite loudly, but Louise’s brassy pipes are so effective that her voice soars across the music, creating a perfectly marvellous blend of sound. Although she started standing with her back to the audience, once she had turned to face us, she stayed leaning against the back of the piano, facing the audience straight on, in a way which I think worked much better than her previous performances of the number, where she had turned away from us during the quieter verses. This time she maintains the brassy, yet feeling, dame throughout, with a much more fluid transition from verse to chorus.
Walking round to stand beside her accompanist, Louise tells us that working in the world of musical theatre she and Jason like to support new work; and then with convincing seriousness, she’s a good actress, for she must be joking, that “It’s always with great regret when I hear a show that auditioned for and didn’t get is about to close”, and they launch into a hilarious brightening up duet of (Kander & Ebb’s) I Told You So. Louise gets some lovely opportunities to play with her gift for accents, switching them for practically every other line of the song, mainly to illustrate the various moods in which the line could be sung. She came out with a very unusual one “with a little sneer in it”, proof, that even when you know her vocal abilities quite well, she can still be surprising. The song seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed by all. Prompting a remark from Louise about what a cruel lot we all seemed to be, enjoying the schadenfreude.
However, as Valerie remarked in her introduction, Louise is a very nice person, and it would not be in her lovely nature to laugh at the misfortunes of other performers, without laughing at her own, and she promptly does so, saying she “only feels qualified to laugh at flop shows having been in” some, and proceeds to mention the two that got into The Guinness Book of Records, Bag and Ziegfeld. On mentioning that Bag’s gala opening night was supposed to be at Grantham Leisure Centre, some of the audience laugh, prompting Louise to cut short with the comment “I’ve played them all”; And indeed in a career that stretches from The Kings Theatre Southsea to The London Palladium, Louise has played many an unlikely venue from Gloucester Leisure Centre to The Brighton Pavilion Music Room. She goes on to talk about Ziegfeld, which got “the most awful reviews” there is a slightly odd audience reaction, which the normally too modest Louise handles with surprising confidence saying “Not for me, you understand”. Quite right too, her own notices were good. Going over to a basket, conveniently positioned on a chair, bottom stage left. She lifts the lid and takes out a small bunch of newspaper clippings, for a moment there was a glint of her gleaming yellow torch in the basket (some of us can guess where that will come in). She does an convincing job of acting out the scene where Ziegfeld’s secretary or Fanny Brice is telling Florenz Ziegfeld about the reviews, and he still find glittering quotes in them. She moves on to sing an nice excerpt from Ziegfeld, More Than You Know (by Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose, and, Edward Elison). Not one she‘d done in that show, but her lovely voice does it justice anyway. She also looks quite stunning in that evening dress. Although Louise is the kind of woman who looks good in almost anything. That dress suits her well, it also allows her to show her off her fine legs a little. While I think her hairstyle is the best she’s had in the last six years, though quite short, her red curls are delightfully tousled, in a way that is just so typical of her.
One might have thought there had
already been a good deal of comedy in Louise’s act, but things were about to
get totally muppetational. Until now Louise had presented herself as very much
the experienced actress. And yes she is a stunning musical-theatre actress, who
has played them all, seen it all and is still here. In fact she slips in
a mention of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and how she got to meet The
Sherman Brothers, Louise recalls about telling one of them that his music
had been the soundtrack of her childhood, and asking him how that made him
feel, which had elicited a remark from him of “Well bearing in mind how old
you are...” Yes she’s an experienced mature musical-theatre actress, but Louise
Gold is so much more than just that. Standing there looking quite
disarmingly innocent she tells us about the time her agent asked her if she’d
like to “audition for a big new TV show” the only thing was “The
leading lady was a pig”. A good number of the audience probably knew
exactly what was coming next, especially after Valerie Cutko’s
introduction, but it is possibly some still weren’t quite sure where this joke
was leading, what did she mean by the word “Pig”. After a perfectly
timed comic pause the next line clarified “The leading man was a frog, and
the comedian was a bear” “No he’s not, he’s wearing a neckatie” chips in
Jason with the punch line of one of ‘Gags Beasley’s’ famous jokes. With the
recent death of the fantastic comedy scriptwriter Jerry Juhl, I thought
it so wonderful that they included that joke (especially as Louise has
performed many a Jerry Juhl script on TV). Louise proceeds to say that
this was how she got to work on The Muppet Show (I was a little
disappointed that she cut both the bit about the frog asking if she could do
funny voices, and the explanation that they taught her to puppeteer), she did
however name six of her famous colleagues: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave
Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and, Steve Whitmire
(Kathryn Mullen was the only one of The Muppet Show Eight not to
get a mention. But perhaps it is appropriate to just mention The Big Five
plus Steve who has since gone on to become such a major member of the Muppets
that Muppet Fans tend to regard him as a extra honoury member of the Five).
Louise promptly launches into the most sensational, inspirational,
celebrational muppetational part of her act, an incredibly well polished
Muppet medley, for which
Back into her West End actress guise, and the musical Mamma Mia, she wanted to do a number from it, but as she says the thing about ABBA is the pop arrangements “and Jason’s only got a piano”. That line sounded a little insulting, given how wonderfully he’d just accompanied her on the Muppet medley. She then says that if you strip away the pop arrangements you can actually hear the lyrics, and launches into the verse of Dancing Queen (by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus). The verse was very good, sliding around accent wise, until eventually settling into her ‘Tanya’ accent. But coming to the chorus, whipping her recorder out of the basket, she started to play, and that’s where it all went a bit wrong, the look on her face made it plain. If Louise Gold has one major imperfection as a performer, it is that she laughs very easily, usually at the most inconvenient moments in the middle of a performance. The girl can’t help it, she’s always been like that, from The Muppet Show to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it’s always got her into difficulties. Somehow she got through the number, but at the end when the audience went to applaud she said “Please don’t, I really can play the recorder better than that”. She was quite right, I saw her play that number much better three years ago, this time she did rather mess it up. I am not saying she didn’t deserve applause for getting through it, but it’s quite understandable that she felt she did not deserve it, and as an audience we respected that. One of Louise’s endearing qualities is her positive manner, so on with the show, and an audience sing-a-long of Dancing Queen in Japanese. This went down pretty well, with Louise’s powerful voice leading a pretty enthusiastic audience.
Louise disappears off stage, Jason almost following her and half-way across the stage saying “Oh She’s here” Louise calling to him “Play something”. Jason takes his place at the piano and strikes up The British National Anthem. Louise soon sweeps on with the Spitting Image puppet of The Queen, her strong left-hand in the heavy latex puppet’s head and her right in the sleeve, holding a piece of paper. A topical introduction, about Camilla getting America, Margaret getting a TV series “And I get Lauderdale House”, and it’s into Class (by Kander & Ebb). Strangely, whereas before she’d sung it more, this time I couldn’t help noticing it was more recitative than sung. I wasn’t sure why she did it that way, and I didn’t think it quite as good. But it was still pretty effective.
Taking the puppet off-stage and returning as herself, Louise gets on with the all important thank yous, to producers Tim McArthur and Katherine Ives, and also the her director Mr Nigel Plaskitt, switching briefly to a severe voice she says “Mr Nigel Plaskitt” and he comes on to take a some applause. After thanking her co-performer Jason Carr. She goes on to thank Valerie Cutko for MC’ing this Lauderdale season, and for the introduction. But it is here that Louise complains about the introduction praising her too much “It made me sound like I was any good”. Honestly, Louise Gold may be modest, and that’s generally a good thing, but I’ve never heard of a star-turn complaining they were given too good an introduction!
Louise’s grand finale is a love song medley: Mon Homme, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Some Of These Days, and So Long Dearie. The latter being a powerful Jerry Herman number. It’s a good tour de force, both for her comic timing, and her spectacular pipes. It has its poignant moments too, especially with Some Of These Days; theatre is such an ephemeral art form some of these days we’ll miss them when they’re away. But let’s just enjoy what we have, a wonderful blend of sound a magnificent singer whose voice soars over a well executed piano, a divine luscious rich fruity sound that rolls out like really good French wine.
Disappearing off-stage, Louise very swiftly returns for her encore, wearing Binkie, her cute little hand-and-rod puppet on her clever left hand. This time she walked on remarkably sedately without trying to do anything crazy, (- well bearing in mind what happened last time she played Lauderdale), and sits on the silver chair. At the piano Jason strikes up The Rainbow Connection (by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher). He is the only person I have heard who can actually play that on the piano and make it sound like it is meant to be played on a piano (in the film, The Muppet Movie, it’s a banjo number). Louise’s magical voice picks up the tune, and sings with simple sincerity as herself. And yet, this isn’t just a simple number, the skill and comedy is all there in her left-hand, as she has Binkie respond to her singing, and sometimes take up the song, in a very Muppet-like way. It’s the truly beautiful high spot of a wonderful act. Perhaps it was Valerie’s introduction that helped, or perhaps the sophisticated Highgate audience. But clearly the audience did appreciate that we were witnessing the shear fluid artistry of a puppeteering legend. There was only one bit where the audience laughed, and that was when Louise had Binkie mouth laughing in a very Muppety way (a trick she’s clearly picked up from Jim Henson and Steve Whitmire, because they’d both do that with Kermit The Frog). At the end of the number the audience was so stunned by the wonderfulness of the whole act, that although we applauded pretty thunderously it took several moments for us to unfreeze enough to give the performers, especially Louise, a richly deserved standing ovation. But Louise did get her ovation in the end. And of course she bent her left-wrist so that Binkie could take a bow too.
How did Louise’s act compare to the performances three years ago? Well I rather missed some of the cut numbers; such as Cole Porter’s The Leader Of A Big Time Band (it’s such a good opportunity for her to go all Mermanesque). However she did make up for it by really belting out Lovers For A Day and So Long Dearie. Besides which A Little Love was such a wonderful addition, and putting it right at the start did set the scene better than the earlier introduction, because this song fits Louise Gold like a glove (or should that be a puppet). Musically and lyrically it corresponds with her talents brilliantly, even better the spirit of the song suits her personality so well. The change of finale meant that I Am What I Am was omitted. I did miss that because the song does sum up a rather unusual performer to great effect. However, the belting in the finale was nice, and having a song that is even more of a signature piece right at the beginning did make up for that. I also missed one or two of the very funny links. Meanwhile, the Muppet medley was much improved. It looked much more polished and professional. Part of this was execution, part of it was costume, and part of it was that Louise actually managed to get through Hawaiian War Chant without a hint of corpsing. Tico Tico was still not quite perfect (for Louise is not natural at fast tempos) but maybe it is appropriate to have one Muppet number a little imperfect, her use of her hands in it was an improvement. The introduction to the Spitting Image segment worked the best I have ever seen, but the number itself did not seem to quite have the punch of earlier performances, though it was still very good. As for her costume, Wow! She is the kind of woman who will look good in almost anything, and her outfit of three years ago was fine, but this far more impressive. The frock, and her hair-style, definitely helped make some of her numbers just that extra bit better. Overall I felt the performance was actually an improvement on the show three years ago, superb though that was.
If there is one theme that
runs through this performance of her cabaret act, and indeed much of Louise
Gold’s extraordinary performing career it is that of sowing a little
love. By design it’s her line to give the world a little love.
From the lovable legendary madcap world of The Muppet Show,
though such: notable agit prop as Spitting Image, spectacular
flops like Ziegfeld, regional premiers like The Water
Babies, and big West End hits like Mamma Mia and Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang, to this cabaret act, the actress, singer and
puppeteer has proven that. Her tremendous vocal talent, that so far has
sustained her through over three decades as a professional performer, was much
apparent in this show, as were acting and dancing abilities, and her artistic
accomplishments as one of major