Iris Williams: An Encore Evening

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by Joe Regan Jr.

 

After her sold out cabaret appearance at Birdland last October, the Welsh-born Iris Williams returned in triumph May 2 in a show entitled An Encore Evening With Iris Williams to a near capacity crowd. Once again, the venue was filled with many musical luminaries as well as a significant amount of Welsh friends and members of Williams’ favorite charity, St. David’s Society of New York. As before, her superb musicians were music director/arranger/pianist Art Weiss, on bass Tom Hubbard, and on drums and percussion Jeff Pillinger.

 

Williams, who just celebrated a significant birthday, was in superb voice and her body language and gestures (which she never plans) illustrated the meaning of the passion of the lyrics—and she was spot on, musically. Her energy level is wired to the music and she never stops throughout show. She began with a slow version of the Gershwins’ “Fascinating Rhythm” strutting all over the stage, directing much of the song to guests in the front of the house and playfully interacting with her musicians. The change in pace afterward was “Nice and Easy” (Lew Spence/Marilyn and Alan Bergman) which had her bouncing all over the stage. Then, leaning against the crook of the piano, she crooned a wonderful “You Belong To Me,” and made you understand all the lyrics as if you had never heard them before.

 

She saluted Alyce Finell, whom Williams announced had just been honored with the MAC Ruth Kurtzman Lifetime Achievement Award, and sang a song Finell wrote for her show about Mabel Mercer. It’s a wonderful heart-breaking song entitled “It’s Not the Same,” about the kind of love that endures after a break-up. Williams’ hushed finish had the crowd hesitating before applauding.

 

Like last time, she did a Cole Porter medley, this time also saluting Frank Sinatra because she did two of his hits, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Night and Day” in the midst. The last number was one Porter wrote to honor his wife, Linda, and it was “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate, which she sang simply and purely.

 

Williams read a letter that President Gerald Ford wrote for a White House Celebration with Queen Elizabeth II. A grandson was caught in the elevator with his pants down and the Queen was non-plussed because she said she saw her son that way all the time! Of course, when the Queen was dancing the first dance the military band played “The Lady Is A Tramp!”

 

After a short and raucous “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” she thanked Jim Caruso (who booked her) with his favorite song, “Two For The Road,” again dramatizing all the imagery in those great Leslie Bricusse lyrics against Henry Mancini’s beautiful theme music from the film of the same name.

 

The most enchanting moment in the evening was her performance of a Sondheim song which Williams has never sung before. She sang all the lyrics of “Children Will Listen,” the Witch’s song from the show and movie Into the Woods and it was a stunning, dramatic and emotional performance that elicited Brava!’s and a standing ovation.

 

Piaf is one of her idols and she did her Piaf medley beginning with “La Goualante du Pauvre Jean” (known in English as “The Poor People of Paris”) and including “La Vie En Rose” in both French and English. The big finish was “Padam Padam,” which had the audience applauding rhythmically with her.

 

Yes, she saluted the late Julie Wilson by taking the lyric written by Cleo Laine to the love theme from The Deer Hunter and changing the gender so the song became “She Was Beautiful.” She bragged that her recording was a bigger hit than Laine’s, but of course Laine got the royalties for writing it!

 

Williams sat on a stool center stage and sang “I Wish You Love,” and actually sang the second chorus in French. It was wonderful one-act play of parting lovers.

 

The penultimate number was Ashford & Simpson’s “Remember Me,” but the crowd wouldn’t let her go. So she performed Piaf”s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” triumphantly. Watch for future appearances of Iris Williams. She may overwhelm you with her energy but all her patter and musical chops are lessons for young singers.

 

Iris Williams (OBE) – An Encore Evening with Iris Williams was performed May 2, 2016 at Birdland (315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.birdlandjazz.com

 

 

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