Musical Director: Jeremy Limb
Cabaret shows almost always look backwards, back to particular styles, to specific singers and musicians, as well as the retro feeling and intimacy of jazz cabaret in the 1950s and 60s. A conventional cabaret evening, then, contains plenty of cover versions and often some biographical chatter between the numbers to engage the audience. But the slightly haphazard Mel and Lenny’s Festive Ding Dong, playing for one night only Live at Zedel, is anything but conventional.
First and foremost, the Mel of the title is Melinda Hughes who writes her own original comic songs with musical director Jeremy Limb, several of which are included in the eclectic set-list for this Christmas-themed show. Framing her opening set as a review of the year, Mel sings ‘It’s Christmas Time Again’ which sets the tone with a tongue-in-cheek run through the frustrations of the season, from the John Lewis adverts to forcibly watching Love Actually as part of the present-crazed madness of December.
These socially relevant numbers go on to skewer everything from Britain’s Got Talent to the hipster, but it’s Mel’s second song that hits home with a story of a sweet, girlish narrator who becomes a foul-mouthed and vicious online troll, hiding behind her online anonymity. Performed with verve and comic lightness by Hughes, ‘It’s So Much Fun to Hate’ is a well-observed highlight.
There is generally very little stand-up comedy in most cabarets, but here the rest of the show is largely given over to comedian Steve Furst who performs regularly as comic creation Lenny Beige, the “greatest entertainer in his price range”. Beige is an old-school club singer with sky-high self-belief, no self-awareness and a classic crooner’s voice – imagine the love child of Alan Partridge and Max Bygraves. And once Beige is on the tiny stage he describes as being “modelled on an unmarked grave” Mel isn’t getting her show back.
And his set is a lot of fun with plenty of banter within and between songs. Occasionally Beige has too much fun as he accidentally knocks a music stand into the audience, drowning his devoted fans and the set notes in beer, or offers up some near the knuckle jokes that seem to take their inspiration from the 1970s and not in a good way. But Beige certainly has an incredible rapport with an audience who gladly sing along, wave their arms in the air and demand more encores even as the show overshoots its runtime.
It’s a very physical performance as well, every song lyric acted-out or emoted as dramatically as possible whether he’s singing ‘Love on the Rocks’ by his hero Neil Diamond or a groin-pumping version of ‘I Love You Baby’, its all delivered with exaggerated comic effect. Other highlights include ‘Winter Wonderland’ reimagined as the commercial Hyde Park fair, a rant against Christmas drinks including mulled wine (“the devil’s mouthwash”) and eggnog (“liquiphlegm”) or the nuttiest version of ‘Goldfinger’ you may ever see. Beige is a finely-honed comic character who really is as entertaining as he claims to be, just not all for the right reasons.
Mel and Lenny’s Christmas Ding Dong falls a little flat in the final section of duets which forget the Christmas theme entirely. There’s a feeling that the show has been hastily put together with relatively little rehearsal, so lyrics are forgotten, and the current structure hasn’t quite found the balance between spoof and sentiment, but there’s an endearing charm to its ramshackle nature. Mel may have to muscle her way back into the show, but let’s hope that this particular pairing isn’t just for Christmas.
Runs Until: 20 December 2019