saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
A Song Goes Round The World
St. James Theatre
16th May 2016
Photography provided by St. James Theatre
I have to say, I'm a little ambivalent about Rosen und Wiesen und Kinder, but Daniel Donskoy and European chansons are definitely a few of my favourite things. Having seen Donskoy perform with leading fringe musical company All Star Productions and with his own company, Collaborative Artists at the West End's Garrick Theatre, I've never been in any doubt that Donskoy is a gifted stage performer. In A Song Goes Round the World, Donskoy demonstrates yet another string to his bow by singing in German, Russian, Yiddish and French. Having lived in various places around the world, I wouldn't surprised if many other cities tried to claim him as their own, but Donskoy is one of the most versatile and talented performing artists in London at the moment and he belongs very much treading the boards over here. More of his work, please.
Opening with titular number Ein Lied geht um die Welt, Donskoy begins his musical tour in Germany, demonstrating a wonderful control over the beautiful melody and conveying what seems to be a very personal mutual belief with Hans May and Ernst Neubach that music can and should be shared with everyone. He changes the tone with more playful numbers Veronika ("die Mädchen singen Tralala") and Mein Kleiner Grüner Kaktus ("dann hol' ich meinen Kaktus und der sticht, sticht, sticht"), bringing out the comedy of the songs. He builds the humour for a big finish which is gleefully appreciated by the entire audience, even though presumably not all of them actually understand German. Donskoy throws himself into these songs with such enthusiastic movement, gurning expressions and funny voices. He then shifts the mood back with a more sombre jazzy affair, In Dieser Stadt, every note imbued with wistful nostalgia.
Of course, this isn't just song after song after song, Donskoy breaks up the performances by thoughtfully explaining the choices behind them and giving some structure to the evening. (Frankly, he could have read the Yellow Pages out loud and it wouldn't have mattered - the enrapt crowd would have lapped it up as eagerly.) More than just a singer or actor putting on another persona, Donskoy has the presence to charm an audience simply as himself. After the triumph of You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews, there just had to be a section featuring some of the best of Jewish chansons and Donskoy doesn't disappoint with contemplative A Yiddishe Mame, heartbreaking Papirossen and more upbeat numbers Bei Mir Bistu Shein and Rebbe Elimelech.
Given the size of the studio, fitting a three-piece band on stage (Inga Davis-Rutter on keys, Richard Burden on drums and Jeremy Longley on bass) doesn't leave someone as tall as Donskoy with much room to move around. However, he still manages to shake it like a Polaroid picture and bring out the sheer joy and fun of Rebbe Elimelech ("hobn fidldik gefildt hobn zey"). The entire room is won over by Donskoy, but I noticed in particular plenty of swooning from the front row. Can't really blame them.
Although this is very much Donskoy's personal showcase, Davis-Rutter ably plays a complex Spanish-inspired piano solo with distinct and varied sections and singer Jackie Marks sings a few classic French numbers such a La vie en rose and Je ne regrette rien. Whilst Marks stumbles over some of the pronunciation, this is forgiven as she has such a fabulously sultry depth and control, belting out and holding difficult notes seemingly effortlessly. She's also as charming as Donskoy, making for a perfect co-host of sorts to share the stage in the second half. Donskoy's yearnings for Berlin here are echoed in love song to Paris, Sous le ciel de Paris, a chanson packed full of landmarks and idle musings. All four of the French choices, including Hymne à l'amour have been performed by Edith Piaf at some point, making Donskoy's selection perhaps rather narrow, but there's nothing wrong with putting the focus on one of l'hexagone's greats.
The trip around Europe ends in Russia with an exuberant rendition of Ochy Cherniye, the more solemn Ja Vstretil Vas and Kalitka and finally crowd pleaser Dorogoi Dlinnoyu. As close to technically faultless as the evening was, I do have to point out there were a few missed cues. However, I equally have to acknowledge that these actually served to endear Donskoy and Marks even further to their audience and the thunderous applause was not only whole-hearted but well-deserved.
Leaving A Song Goes Round The World, I was struck by the multilingual chatter of audience members enthusiastically discussing the night and patrons absent-mindedly humming some of the songs that had earlier been performed on stage. Music has the power to transcend language and honestly, it was a privilege to watch and listen to Donskoy remind me of that fact. A Song Goes Round The World is a truly magical piece of cabaret.
A Song Goes Round The World ran on 16th May 2016 at St. James Theatre.
Nearest tube station: Victoria (Victoria, Circle, District)