The Albany Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 29th March, 2018
As the curtain opens, a David Attenborough-type voiceover introduces us to that rare and endangered species, the crooner, inviting us to observe them in their natural habitat, namely being on stage with a band. The three specimens presented to us look curiously British, in an old school type of way: bowler hats, tweed jackets and so on. They each sport an elaborate and not-to-mention false moustache. A dapper trio, indeed. We meet Charlie (Roman Marek, who has also written and directed the show), Rupert (Phil Barley) who has something of Lord Lucan to him, and Winston (Jim Whitley) who proves to be the most proficient dancer of the troupe.
The premise is the crooners need to find mates in order to perpetuate their vanishing species and this is the trigger for banter-aplenty with the audience. It’s good-natured ribbing and the humorous exchanges between the musical numbers are saucy rather than vulgar. The trio exudes oodles of charm and generates an abundance of fun. Their urbane cheekiness is irresistible.
The set list is rich with standards. Come Fly With Me, Fly Me To The Moon, On The Street Where You Live – it’s all solid Rat Pack fare, and the three voices blend marvellously. They each get solo spots: Charlie’s Frank Sinatra is particularly good but I loved Rupert’s tipsy Dean Martin. Winston’s Sammy Davis Jr gives us a show-stopping Mr Bojangles.
Some of the jokes are even older than the songs but Roman Marek’s Benny Hill naughty-boyishness pulls them off, and he is an accomplished physical comedian. There are many moments of undiluted delight. The second half opens with the men in their underwear. They perform a reverse strip-tease, getting dressed to music, donning the familiar black-tie attire of this kind of affair.
The band is magnificent and tireless: The Mini Big Band, a ten-piece combo of hot brass, cool sax, rocking drums and moody piano, under the musical direction of Chris and Jon Hibbard. They underscore, accompany and participate in the action, but above all, sound fantastic.
Oh yes, there’s also tap-dancing, the kind of choreography old Brucie was doing right up until the end.
Utterly enjoyable, entertaining and hilarious, Crooners is a joy from start to finish.