Performers: Paul Roberts & Miranda Wilford
Reviewer: Sonny Waheed
The Great American Songbook is, arguably, the greatest collection of songs from the 20th century. It’s a loose collective of Jazz, pop and showtunes from the early 20th century and has been covered and interpreted by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra to Annie Lennox and Rod Stewart. And now we get one of the more surprising voices to put their spin on these classics, former lead singer of punk rock stalwarts, The Stranglers, Paul Roberts.
Partnered with film and West End actor and singer, Miranda Wilford, the pairing presents a whistle-stop journey through some of the greatest songs of this era. The show is structured around the songwriters; we get introduced to them via some little stories and then are treated with a song or two from their catalogue. And we’re given a great range. Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kerr, Duke Ellington, Rodgers & Hammerstein and a whole host more.
With an available canon of music as populous and popular as the Great American Songbook, selecting songs everyone knows is easy but selecting ones they’d like to hear, however, must have been a nightmare. With a running time of 75 minutes, the duo crams in nearly 20 songs that represent the leading writing talents of the period and also a fair stylistic representation – smooth to jazz, ballad to dance tunes. There’s something that ticks, pretty much, all boxes.
The performances from both Roberts and Wilford are also great. Wilford’s West-End heritage comes through and her singing is clean, crisp and mellow; much akin to Doris Day (a character she has played on stage). This provides a lovely clarity to the songs she performs but, if being hypercritical, in some of the jazzier numbers, her pitch perfect clarity takes some of the edginess off the song.
Roberts, however, is a revelation. What is immediately noticeable is the obvious comparisons to Frank Sinatra. Whilst you’d never accuse, or be convinced that Roberts is impersonating Sinatra, his physicality, movement, overall demeanour, and phrasing when singing, all scream Sinatra. And this is no bad thing. It’s a delightful contrast to the cleaner and more mellow interpretations of Wilford and together they compliment each other beautifully.
Accompanied by a tight Jazz trio and songs interspersed with a brief history lesson on the writers and performers of the period, S’ Wonderful is a wonderful tribute to an amazing collection of music.
Runs until 28 August 2022