Recorded Concert Review: Miss Hope Springs

September 20, 2021 | By | Add a Comment

Miss Hope Springs (Photo: Danny Baldwin)

Miss Hope Springs is the multi-talented creation of Ty Jeffries, the son of the great British character actor Lionel Jeffries. This is the recording of a concert in celebration of UK Pride Month 2021 with a program made up entirely of original material.  She can sing, she can play, she can delight with witty and naughty patter, but above all she can write! Song after song attests to her ability to evoke the style and substance of classic cabaret songs of the past while remaining a total original.  There are echoes of Coward and Porter and Grand and Harnick and Sondheim in terms of verbal dexterity and infectious accompaniment, but the show is like finding a treasure trove of new special material, ready to be immortalized by cabaret and piano bar performers the world over.

Gorgeously coiffed in a voluptuous blonde wig and gowned in a chic, sparkling black pants suit with a truly expansive black boa, she cuts a fine figure as she enters the stage to a distinct lack of what she refers to as the usually rapturous applause.  Wigmore Hall is a lovely hall, and once Springs is seated at the grand piano the lack of an audience is forgotten; with the help of the expert direction of producer Darius Weinberg, we occupy the seats in the empty hall virtually.  Uncannily, it does feel like we are there and that allows some of the material to achieve an intimacy that might not otherwise have been achieved. At the end of each number, we supply the appreciative response in our minds.  But not all is silence.  I found myself chuckling out loud more than a few times at her finely crafted lyrics.  She has fun wryly calling attention to the unnatural circumstances of concertizing during a pandemic with an arched brow or a chagrined stare or a sharp barb. Each moment and move is perfectly timed and executed.  

“Say Hello”  is an inviting opener, welcoming us with this promise: “No more tales of woe from Edgar Allen Poe. I want to reach out to the world and say hello!” From her 1962 album, Je M’Appelle Hope, “Pigalle” is a portrait of a seedy little nightclub filled with snapshots of its denizens reminiscent of Noel Coward. One refrain will give you the idea and give you a glimpse of her way with words:

It’s like a scene out of a book by Jean Genet

And on Sunday nights the cabaret is gay

The most beautiful of boys come out to play

And the older gentlemen will always pay.

Next she does “Nothing For You,” written for her husband Irving who now lives in a camper van in Dungeness with his close personal hairdresser friend, Carlos.  It’s a simmering, laid back blues with a gritted-teeth delivery that is a delight.

(Photo: Courtesy Wigmore Hall)

Then comes a song from the repertoire of her grandmother, Gusta Wind, “Bad Bad Girl,” which is a survey of the shady ladies of history, including Mata Hari, Salome, Lucrèce Borgia, Jezebel, and the like.  I can think of at least a half dozen performer friends who would jump on this song immediately; oddly enough not one of them is female. Her 1976 album, Memphis, gives us “Queen of Fools.” Usually in a show like this, with predominantly funny songs, the occasional serious song is something to bear with until we get back to the laughs, but not with Miss Hope Springs.  This is a solid, touching pop ballad that recalls no less than Peter Allen. 

She claims to have dated Noel Coward, but it turns out to have been a single brunch in Vegas after which he “wrote” a song for her called “Please Don’t Desert Us At Dessert.” It is as brilliant a send-up of the Master as I’ve heard. “Man Hungry,” from her 1969 album, Miss Hope Springs Sings with Strings, could have been written in the 1940s for Mae West.  A hilarious reminiscence of one of her most famous shows, Vegas to Weimar, leads into an impossibly German cabaret song titled “I Love Berlin.” 

“All the Fun of the Fair” is Springs’ version of “Is That All There Is?” with a bit of Charles Aznavour for good measure. “Wanda” tells the tawdry tale of free-spirited young woman who went “wanderin’ down the avenue” causing people to “wonder where Wanda’s wanderin’ now.” The concert ends with “Carnival,” a melodramatic throwback to the chansons of Brel and Aznavour that has surprising emotional depth for a song that could easily have descended into parody; it uses the silence of the empty hall to haunting effect. 

Interspersed with the marvelous songs are humorous, pun-filled “biographical bits” as she recalls her long and spectacular career, with mention of her many, many albums when appropriate.  If the years of the various recordings are to be believed, the lady is remarkably well-preserved.  

I cannot think of a comparable performer in the drag world.  In fact, the one legend that approaches what she does is John Wallowitch. So, here’s a hearty “Brava!” to Miss Hope Springs, and a hearty “Bravo!” to the brilliant Ty Jeffries.  I hope once travel becomes plausible again, they will take a trip across the Pond.

***

Recorded live at Wigmore Hall, London. You can view the show in its entirety right here, courtesy of Miss Hope Springs (Ty Jeffries).

 

 

 

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

Leave a Reply