The Quartet Bar, Festival Centre, Wed 21st Jun.
Many biographical cabaret shows relate the backstory of a well-known performer and knit the star’s life events to their famous songs. Tonight’s show however takes a different approach. Sunitra Martinelli has selected the larger than life story of trailblazer, hedonist and writer but virtually unknown Emily “Mickey” Hahn and written a series of songs about Emily’s amazing exploits.
Backed by a very fine jazz trio featuring Josh Baldwin on drums, Declan Horan on double bass and Alex Wignall on piano the suite of songs effortlessly spans a range of musical genres from speakeasy jazz to African rhythms to a Chinese opera-tinged song,which culminates in a singalong – and yes it works brilliantly.
Martinelli’s performance is stylised but also sultry, sassy and impressive. With minor onstage costume changes for each song, using a selection of tops, sumptuous furs and headpieces, she moves from a young bolshy grad student driving across the USA dressed as a man to adventures in Africa and into a vamp in Shanghai with grace and ease.
Martinelli is a seasoned jazz performer and her smooth vocals and excellent syncopation bring out the most from her songs. However it is her songwriting skills that really stand out tonight. The lyrics are tightly written, and songs about the empowerment of women have particular current relevance.
Tonight’s show is billed as a workshop performance. Judging by the audience’s response, the quality of the songs and the amazing life of Emily Hahn this deserves to move into further development – as a fully fleshed out musical or even on screen. This is entertainment with heart, musicianship and a story to tell.