Ferris & Milnes: Three Stars With a Wow Chaser







by Alix Cohen


I see a lot of concerts/club shows. This one blew me away. Having interviewed British collaborators Dominic Ferris and Martin Milnes for this site and watched several performance links, I had enjoyed a few of their remarkable “mashups.” (The term for complicated medleys sounds like a misnomer here as musical fluidity and the relationship of lyric content are both eloquently crafted.) Still, watching a full show replete with repartee, solos, and sophisticated tomfoolery, exhibits skill sets, talent levels, and symbiosis one rarely encounters. You can be sure they’ll be back soon (from their home, across the pond).


A classically trained pianist, Ferris starts with a fine bit of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” From the back of the house Milnes sails into “Heat Wave” (Gershwin) as if a bridge had been extended, wherein Ferris counters with “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” (Berlin). His shoulders rise and rotate, “g’s” are dropped. Before we know it, we’re knee deep in ebullient Irving Berlin. Milnes, on his feet, is infectiously dancy. Both men sing really well. “She certainly can, she certainly can, she certainly can [pause] Can-Can!”


Milnes’ solo contribution begins with a plaintive “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Sammy Fain/ Irving Kahal) whose notes extend like pulled taffy. “ . . . but as well as my tenor voice, there’s also my falsetto which can take me into operetta [pause] like Naughty Marietta.” The performer explodes into “Italian Street Song” (Victor Herbert/Rida Johnson Young) at an octave so clear and high we look twice. Were he not such a good vocalist, this might descend into parody, but he is and it astonishingly doesn’t.


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Bursting with anticipation, the inexorable momentum of Ferris’s “Luck Be a Lady” (Frank Loesser) conjures riding a bike downhill without hands; yet it’s his precision that communicates feelings. “I Dreamed a Dream” (Claude-Michel Schönberg/Alain Boublil/Jean-Marc Natel) is enacted. Ferris sways on the piano bench, nodding with emphasis, leaning back in retard, teeth at his lower lip, lifting and lowering his hands like the swan queen. During these, Milnes has withdrawn offstage into the dark. He now has what one can only call a hissy fit about being ignored. “Why didn’t you at least look at me?!…” (Think Lady Windermere’s Fan) Of course, they reconcile: with a jaunty “Me and My Shadow” (Al Jolson/Billy Rose/Dave Dreyer) including four-handed piano and vocal counterpoint followed by a gospel “I Believe” (Ervin Drake) with an MGM finale. Who imagined these songs could be synced?!


Duets of of Monty Python’s “Decomposing Composers”: “The decomposing composers/ There’s nothing much anyone can do/You can still hear Beethoven/But Beethoven cannot hear you . . .” The Gershwin’s lighthearted “Strauss” (from An American in Paris), and MIlnes’ mischievous “The King’s New Clothes” (Frank Loesser from Hans Christian Anderson) are unadulterated fun.


Ferris’s solos, like “The Way We Were” (Alan and Marilyn Bergman) tend to have pop cadence. An instrumental of “Autumn Leaves” (Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer), starting with classical influence and segueing to boogie woogie is a bit overstuffed for my taste, but superior musicianship is unquestionable. Milnes’ tone leans more towards Broadway. His “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) soars. My caveat for this artist is that he rarely looks at us during ballads whose emotions we should share, not observe.


Two more mashups/medleys are presented: The wonderful “33 Sondheim Songs in 4 Minutes” written for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th Birthday Celebration show in London (which can be viewed here) and the entire score (abbreviated) of Sondheim’s West Side Story with sections in falsetto, Spanish inflection, and a few apt dance moves. Vocal arrangements and sequence are masterful.


A Dietz and Schwartz encore of “That’s Entertainment” summed up the show to a “T.”



Ferris & Milnes played Saturday, October 22 at The Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues). www.metropolitanroom.com



Photos: Samantha Urry