First a disclosure: the following deals with one of my best friends, who happens to be a fantastic performer and a veteran of the Bay Area theater and cabaret scene.
One of the reasons Craig Jessup and I became friends in the first place was a shared love of Noël Coward. Craig was performing his cabaret tribute to Coward at the Mark Hopkins Hotel high atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill, and the match of singer and songs was impeccable.
As an actor of sophistication and good humor and a singer of power and subtlety, Craig is an ideal Coward performer. He brings the requisite comic skills to songs such as “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party” and “(Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage) Mrs. Worthington),” but he’s got the emotional chops to really delve into the brilliance of Coward ballads such as “Come the Wild, Wild Weather” and my personal favorite, “If Love Were All.”
For Coward fans and those who still need exposure to the Master’s particular genius, Craig Jessup Sings Noël Coward is being revived for two shows only this Saturday, Dec. 6, at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. Ken Muir, one of the Bay Area’s best pianists and musical directors, is at the piano.
If all you know about Coward is the image of the cigarette-smoking sophisticate always ready with a zinger, you owe it to yourself to learn a little more about this prodigiously talented man who wrote music and lyrics, penned some brilliant (and not-so-brilliant) plays, wrote some hilarious books (novels, spoofs), painted some gorgeous pictures and acted and directed in the worlds of film and theater.
Perhaps because Coward did so much so well he’s taken somewhat for granted. His self-perpetuating public image also has something to do with that – he’s remembered more as a dandy than as the hard-working renaissance man he actually was.
Whatever, any time spent reveling in Coward’s world is time well spent. In addition to Craig’s show, you should check out the three-part documentary originally aired in 1998 that is now available on DVD from Kultur Video: The Noël Coward Trilogy. Director Adam Low takes an in-depth look into Coward’s work and his carefully cultivated public image. Then check out the BBC’s fantastic box set of Coward plays, The Noël Coward Collection.
At some point there will be a Coward renaissance. Until then, we have Craig Jessup Sings Noël Coward, which is an awfully good start.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Craig Jessup Sings Noël Coward is at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $20-$35. Call 415-383-9600 or visit www.142throckmortontheatre.org.
Here’s Coward singing “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” from 1955:
And here’s Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in Act 1 of Private Lives: