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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Review: Look of Love is memorable and sublime

Posted in: Performance
By Steve Attwood - 9th December 2008

The Look of Love
Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Downstage Theatre, Wellington
Season runs to 18 December.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand
As a bloke who has had rather too many casual encounters disappear into the utterly forgettable mists of time, I had some sympathy for a Dudley Moore when he said he was looking for "a meaningful one night stand".
I hope Moore found his. Mine was at Downstage last night . . . a rare treat, for this old leather queen, spending an evening with a beautiful woman who, you get the feeling, has steel in her bones and would definitely not be a sub (though God bless 'em one and all). I was indeed, as one of her timeless numbers so eloquently put it, "bewitched, bothered and bewildered."
Jennifer Ward-Lealand earns those over-the-top rave quotes you see in large print on preview posters, and she earns it with sublime grace, constant control, and a voice that most times was like cream running slick across a smooth chest - utterly lickable; and, just occasionally, had the depth and danger of boulders tumbling hidden in a treacherous torrent.
This was an evening for people who love to listen; who love great songs and great tunes, as timeless as Bacharach and  the Beatles, or as startlingly naughty as a little 50's number, The Masochism Tango . . . (no surprises that the latter rang my bells!)
Oh, and for the gay boys especially, listen out for the straight-girl-loves-gay-boy innuendo in The Boy From blah de blah de blah (OK, not the proper title! I couldn't pronounce, let alone spell, the real title, which was such a tongue twister it left Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the dust!).
And, more especially, it was for people who love to hear great songs sung well. Ward-Lealand has a beautiful, but not unique, jazz/cabaret voice.
What shunts her from bloody good to memorable is the masterful control she exercises over it, and not just because she still had nine more evenings to go! In songs like Something In The Way He Moves she took us to the edge of a power burst, but just pulled back at the last minute, leaving us wanting more, but knowing we didn't need it to get the best of the song. She let us have it for the encore, and that was enough.
Full marks too, to pianist Grant Winterburn and bassist Aaron Coddel; superb accompaniment, so much sound from just two instruments.
Highlights for me were the nod to Bobby Gentry with Ode to Billie Joe, Irving Berlin's What'll I Do and Jacque Brel's If You Go Away sung in English and very, very sexy French!
Oh, and if I ever come back as a girl ! . . . I wanna look that good in a frock!

- Steve Attwood

Steve Attwood - 9th December 2008