Bryan Batt, The Crazy Coqs, London ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Broadway performer Bryan Batt is probably better known to a wider audience as Salvatore in Mad Men, or his role in the recent MTV TV series version of horror franchise Scream. But Crazy Coqs audiences are among those who know him for his cabaret performances, and in his fourth visit to the UK, are given first glance at his new cabaret set.

Bryan’s Song is named after a TV movie that Batt watched as a young boy, and whose music inspired him to find his own theme song. As themes for cabaret sets go, it’s not exactly the flimsiest, but does feel as if it’s just the slightest of narrative threads to drape over a selection of Batt’s favourites. That’s not exactly a hardship, though, for Batt and his musical director James Church have assembled a great selection of numbers.

Some of these are familiar standards to those who have had the joy of watching Batt before: his rendition of Sensitive Song from Cops: The Musical, which starts as a saccharine love ballad before turning into a hilariously foul-mouthed uptempo number, is a firm favourite, while a number about the facts of life from Frozen composers Robert Lopez and Jennifer Anderson-Lopez is light years away from Disney, with an earthiness and sense of awkward fun that is far closer to Lopez’ Avenue Q.

Straddling the divide between comedy numbers and classics is Batt’s rendition of the Cole Porter standard Anything Goes, with 21st century lyrics wittily provided by Joe Keenan (“When grandmas have their skin pulled tightly / And look just like Keira Knightley / Whose eyes won’t close…”) that completely matches the original for wit and contemporary satire. And that leads straight in to a completely straight reading of another Porter classic Night and Day, proving that Batt does not need humour to provide a great rendition.

Joking that he is now old enough to appreciate a Sondheim lyric, Batt performs a beautiful combination ofGood Thing Going and Not a Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along. But it says a lot that this pair of Sondheim numbers are preceded not by a third from the same composer, but the comparatively little-known Ten Minutes Ago by Richard Rodgers and Sondheim’s mentor, Oscar Hammerstein III. Going from that number and segueing directly into Sondheim’s carefully crafted music shows an awareness of musical theatre lineage that demands, and earns, respect as much as from the masterful rendition.

Elsewhere, there is a little more flab in the spoken aspects than one usually expects from Batt, especially in an extended sequence where he reads out sycophantic self-penned playbill biographies. But there are also some real gems, with numbers from Joni Mitchell and Mama Case Elliott joyfully providing some highlights. And in a week which has seen real tragedy hit the LGBT community in America which has reverberated across the world, Batt does take a little time to address such shocking events. His assertion that when the glass looks half empty, it’s important to remember that it can always be refilled, is an optimistic note on which to end a joyful cabaret.