“This pairing of puppetry and person totally elevates the complexity and the entertainment value of the show”
Mark Mander’s brainchild is a kitsch-clever-crass and super inventive cabaret fest; a true feast for the senses with all ingredients well-measured. Cabaret is a genre to which I seldom treat myself, and this show has set the bar sky-high.
The concept is simultaneously deeply trite and wonderfully novel: Clementine is a living doll with a tortured tinseltown backstory, who lip syncs to drawling musical numbers in various feathery garbs. Her doll-size body is puppeteered by Mander – who also plays her face, which he uses so nimbly and wittily to hilarious effect. This pairing of puppetry and person totally elevates the complexity and the entertainment value of the show, as it is so pleasing to watch Mander play expertly with his crazy creation.
Mark Esaias as Bobby Pin, Clementine’s dresser, and Ruth Calkin, whose main character is the endearing and secretly saucy puppet, Yvette the Usherette, are exceptionally skilled performers with wonderfully balanced stage chemistry. They kick off the production, swinging through Zedel’s double doors and diving straight in with some audience interaction, audience person-to-puppet. Calkin is no ventriloquist, but part of the beauty of the show is its confident tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, which adds a further layer of arch humour. Esaias and Calkin perform two numbers with other raucous, bespangled characters. These need to perhaps be paced a little more effectively, as they slowed the pace at points. But ultimately, The Clementine Show exploited the beauty of the variousness of cabaret, under the broad umbrella of delectable and original high jinks.
When she is not performing live, Clementine is hidden behind a screen. Each time it is lifted for a new song, a different bejewelled outfit is revealed (I’m sure doll-size tailoring came in handy for the budget!). Each time the screen was lowered, the audience was treated to projected films, which were exceptionally constructed and utterly hilarious. David Carpenter’s animation was coy and beautifully drawn, and the creative ingenuity of filmmakers Joe Greco, Sheila Clark and Ed Hartwell must be commended, for its slickness and silliness. The Clementine Show seamlessly made its practical logistics a part of its carefully woven fabric. It never rested on its laurels, and was so bold even as to move the audience. Esaias and Calkin’s delicate and elegant puppet rendition of Barry Manilow’s Lola, and Mander’s version of Sondheim’s Losing My Mind, explored the whole rainbow of emotion. Laughter mixed with tears is, after all, the mark of a night well spent.
The show’s fourth of July finale was every bit as glorious and trashy as I’d hoped, and the atmosphere in the bar was glowing. Detailed, classy and with more than a dash of the ridiculous, The Clementine Show makes for a feather-tickled pink night on the razz.
“fills the space with her voice, her personality and her affection for the material she is singing”
It’s quite a feat to squeeze a six-piece band into the intimate space of The Crazy Coqs; part cabaret club and part cocktail lounge tucked away deep beneath the streets of Piccadilly. But whereas the band take up pretty much all of the stage, it is Liza Pulman who fills the space with her voice, her personality and her affection for the material she is singing.
She makes clear from the start that this is not a tribute act or any over indulgent homage to Barbara Streisand. Her stamp is indelibly her own, and although she clearly holds Streisand in high esteem, she doesn’t demand that the audience do the same. For me, at least, what is being showcased are the many composers and songwriters behind Streisand’s phenomenal success. And, of course, Pulman herself.
Accompanied by her band, the Stardust Ensemble, she kicks off with ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ before launching into a refreshingly upbeat, Bossa Nova rendition of Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. Touches like this set the tone for the evening. You may be overfamiliar with the original tune but Liza, aided by her MD and musical arranger Joseph Atkins, has a knack of breaking away from the usual treatment of a song. Later on in the set, during ‘New York State of Mind’; where Billy Joel drops his register in the bridge, she soars; the purity of her sustained notes replacing the original melancholy vibe of the song with the promise that anything is possible.
Ballads are interspersed with lighter, more uptempo tunes such as Harold Rome’s ‘I Can Get It For You Wholesale’, Fats Waller’s ‘Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now’, Paul McCartney’s ‘Honey Pie’ and ‘Second Hand Rose’ from the Broadway hit that catapulted Streisand to fame in the sixties. But Liza comes into her own when she wraps the warmth of her voice around (to name only a few of the highlights) the Streisand penned ‘Evergreen’, Marvin Hamlisch’s ‘The Way We Were’, Randy Newman’s ‘I’ll Be Home’ and the gorgeous ‘I Wish You Love’, half sung in French to the solo accompaniment of Atkin’s accordion.
The set list is peppered with anecdotal banter giving us an insight into her own, and also, Streisand’s career and personal life. Her self-deprecatory manner with the audience is relaxed and engaging, yet at times does feel as precisely orchestrated as the songs. But there is no denying her command of the material and her affection covers not just every note of the tunes but extends to her musicians and to the audience.
I must admit, I was fearing an evening of schmaltz, but with Pulman’s early operatic background and later career in Musical Theatre, she sweeps away the undertones with her heartfelt renditions. You don’t need to be a fan of Streisand to appreciate Liza Pulman’s performance. You don’t need to be a fan of the sometimes middle-of-the-road material, nor a fan of cabaret or Musical Theatre, or Hollywood. But after ninety minutes in Liza’s company, you will almost certainly become a fan of her.