Café Society Swing, a musical show based on the story of the Café Society jazz club, is playing for a limited time at Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday 21st June 2014.
Café Society, which opened in New York in 1938, was the first racially desegregated club in the city. Advertised as “the wrong place for the right people”, it was known for its left-wing politics and strivings towards racial equality. It also saw Billie Holiday’s first ever performance of Strange Fruit.
I was completely enthralled throughout this show. We are instantly submerged into the culture and through the narrative of Gareth Snook (who’s character change between acts was slightly confusing) we are transported back to Cafe Society’s inception and go on the journey with all it’s critical highs and political lows.
It’s very rare that a show comes together so tightly that it makes your spine tingle but Cafe Society does just that. From staging to singing this is an emotional roller coaster of a jazz ride that leaves you wanting more.
A few technical issues at the beginning of the show made it hard to hear vocals over the phenomenal 8 piece band but this was corrected fairly quickly and the rest of the show was balanced beautifully. The band, including Trombone, Sax, Trumpet, Bass, Drums and Piano create such a soulful sound it makes the heart sing as you see jazz musicians at their very finest.
A special mention has to go to Vimala Rowe who’s vocal talents absolutely make this show. Her silky smooth dulcet tones sore as she effortlessly and seductively pulls us into her world – she has the appeal of the ‘great’ soul singers of the time and the sophistication to match. Rowe is a natural born diva and as she tantalises and teases you with the wonderful depth of her acting and silky smoothness of her voice we can see her opening her soul and sharing her passion for the music.
Cherise Adams-Burnett brings a lighter tone with her wonderfully original and versatile voice creating a beautiful contrast to Rowe and allowing some truly wonderful harmonies to come through. Ciyo Brown doesn’t fail to impress with his rich and flawless voice and has no problem commanding the audiences attention.
There are elements of the storyline that lack depth and some comedy moments from Snook don’t quite have the desired effect but on the whole this is a great show telling a gritty story whilst making the music the star of the show.
Let’s be clear – you have to like, if not love, jazz to enjoy this show but if you do then you’re in for a real treat. Each instrument and note is played to perfection and the ambience and emotion throughout the piece is very reflective of the hardship and struggle of the time whilst managing to celebrate the glorious soulful music that is Jazz.
Before they try to close Cafe Society again (it finally closed in 1952!) I suggest you get down to the Leicester Square Theatre and grab yourself a front row seat and experience a real piece of history.
Reviewed by Matthew Wren