Cards on the table: We love Charles Aznavour. As a singer, songwriter, and entertainer, the Frenchman is as good as it gets. But during his last appearance in New York, Aznavour announced that he would no longer be performing live on stage in the U.S. Considering this deprivation, and considering how few people actually perform his songs in cabaret, we were delighted that Frans Bloem put together an act showcasing the master's music: the cleverly titled Aznavour in Bloem at Danny's Skylight Room.
Bloem speaks five languages and has built-in European sophistication, along with the advantage of having the accent. Okay, it's a Dutch accent; but to these Bronx-born critics, his French sounds pretty good, too. Of course, Bloem has lots of wonderful songs at his disposal in his all-Aznavour show. The material obviously speaks to him but not all of it translates (as it were) to the audience.
It seems that some of Aznavour's work fits Bloem's talent and personality better than others. Bloem does a lovely job of capturing the wistful, nostalgic nature of Aznavour in songs like "La Boheme," "Mon Emouvant Amour," and "For Mama." He also brings the correct wry attitude to "How to Write a Song." In an inspired arrangement by Sterling Price-McKinney, Bloem melds Aznavour's Armenian cultural heritage as represented in "Two Guitars" with the harsh history of the Armenian massacres depicted in "They Fell That Year."
On several occasions, however, Bloem falls short of the mark when singing many of the darker, angrier songs in Aznavour's canon. Aznavour is a romantic but, underneath it all, he is fired by anger, bitterness, and defiance. Listen to him sing his own songs and you'll hear him bite into the lyrics ferociously. He is no French boulevard singer; like his mentor, Edith Piaf, he is a French alley singer. Bloem, on the other hand, has a studied sheen in performance that softens the harsher aspects of emotionally pungent songs like "It Will Be My Day" and "You've Got to Learn."
Of course, it's unfair to judge any performer of these songs by the high standard set by Aznavour himself. Suffice it to say that Frans Bloem is doing Aznavour fans a service by showcasing this music in such a loving and respectful manner. Having just concluded his run at Danny's Skylight Room, he is next taking this show to Canada and Europe. Charles Aznavour wrote more than 600 songs, and it's our hope that other cabaret singers will follow Bloem's lead in bringing some of these riches to our clubs here in New York.