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Coward at Christmas: A Cabaret for Noel

Simon Green shows off both the philosophical and jovial sides of Noel Coward in this hour-long treat.

By New York City
Simon Green
(© Mark Crick)
Simon Green
(© Mark Crick)
Noel Coward was one of the 20th century's most prominent songwriters, actors, directors, and overall bon vivants; the man himself famously wrote of his "talent to amuse." But one frequently overlooked aspect of his personality, which is brought vividly to mind by Simon Green in Coward at Christmas: A Cabaret for Noel at 59E59 Theatres, is philosopher.

Coward's sagacious view of life as rich but ultimately daunting is expressed repeatedly in his songs and conveyed here with off-handed urbanity by Green -- looking suave in a tailored suit, white shirt, and meticulous tie -- as he offers up such ruminative ditties as "I'll See You Again," "This Is a Changing World," and "I Travel Alone."

But as much as Coward looked reality in its stern face, an hour spent listening to his songs remains a laugh-out-loud treat, full of surprises. Green and his accompanist David Shrubsole haven't felt duty-bound to stick to Coward's most familiar material: "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is not reprised; neither is "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington."

Instead, they turn to lesser-known, gregarious send-ups like the extremely obscure "Three Theatrical Dames," the hilarious lyrics Coward added to Cole Porter's "Let's Do It," a syncopated version of "Someday I'll Find You," and "What's Going to Happen to the Tots?" that pokes fun at the 1920s craze for things like rejuvenating monkey's glands.

While Green -- familiar to Londoners for his work in the musicals of Stephen Sondheim -- definitely has the ability to put across Coward's sophisticated lyrics, he also has vocal drawbacks, one of which is bleating when he decides it's time to push the heavier sentiments. Essentially, he's best at the highly verbal patter songs, where his geniality and acting acumen shine. He especially makes a choice segment of "Why Must the Show Go On?" into which he splices droll excerpts from Coward's writing about shows going on or not.

In numbers like this one, we recall how fortunate we are there are still performers like Green around to recall the great Coward -- and that there is still an audience to relish every beautifully enunciated word.


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