Iris Williams, the Welsh contralto now living in the United States, appeared in Jim Caruso’s Broadway At Birdland series Monday, October 19 in a show entitled “I Wish You Love” to a sold out house full of the members of several Welsh groups, critics, and many cabaret stars. Williams was promoted by Mabel Mercer Foundation co-founder, Alyce Finell, and had appeared triumphantly at the Cabaret Convention Wednesday night where she sang “Last Time I Saw Paris.”
Dressed in a stunning black gown with a split skirt, Williams had a crackerjack line up of musicians: Art Weiss, her music director on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Jeff Brillinger on drums and percussion. During the set there was lots of interplay between Williams and the musicians, sometimes punctuated by rim shots, arpeggios, and Hubbard’s bass comments.
Williams bounced around the stage with her great poetic body movement and gestures on the first two numbers, “Let The Music Begin” (Clive Westlake) and “Nice and Easy.” She calmed down a bit for “I’m Glad There Is You” leaning against the crook of the piano.
At one point, Williams related how she was in an airport when she received a roaming call on her cell phone and thinking it was her son she responded. It was Queen Elizabeth’s man announcing that she was to be on the Honors list, stating she was to be named CBE, but then correcting himself that no, she was to be named OBE. Willaims joked that couldn’t he make another mistake and name her “Dame.”
Williams saluted Finell with a sad rendition of Finell’s end of a romance torch song “It’s Not The Same,” meaning that although the love remains after the parting it actually is “not the same.” (the last line of the song)
The first big set piece was a Harold Arlen medley racing all over the stage with “Let’s Fall In Love” and “I’ve Got The World On A String” but slowing down to sing a melodious “This Time The Dream’s On Me,” and a heart-breaking “Fun To Be Fooled.”
Williams saluted Caruso with his favorite song “Two For The Road” and her glorious arrangement of this Mancini favorite elicited bravas from the crowd. To honor Bart Howard and Frank Sinatra’s Centennials, she belted out “Fly Me To The Moon,” but changed pace with a dramatic “I Loves You Porgy.”
There was an extraordinarily moving tribute song to Julie Wilson of a song Williams sang with lyrics by Cleo Laine to the love theme from “The Dear Hunter” entitled “He Was Beautiful.” Williams changed the pronoun to “She Was Beautiful” and brought tears to the eyes of the audience members who knew and remembered what a wonderful supportive person Wilson was to every performer in cabaret.
Williams’ second big medley was a tribute to Edith Piaf sung in French, although a big surprise was singing the first part of “Autumn Leaves” in Welsh!
She did not neglect her show’s title song, singing it in both flawless French and English and getting another standing ovation. After thanks, she reached out to audience members with Ashford & Simpson’s “Remember Me.” As an unplanned encore, she saluted a Welsh friend, who was on the Queen Elizabeth II with her, with Piaf‘s explosive “No, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” With his kind of reception, watch for Iris Williams to return to Birdland in the future.