Brief Encounter With ... Hal Cazalet
From Monday March 22 through to Saturday March 27, the trio will be performing well-known numbers by Kurt Weill, Ivor Novello, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Sondheim, Gershwin and many others, including P.G. Wodehouse. Hal Cazalet, who is currently receiving positive reviews for his performances in Opera North’s production of Ruddigore, has performed in cabaret, concerts and operas throughout the UK and USA. He recently contributed and performed his own songs in Love at the Crossroads a show featuring the songs of Porter, Coward and Sondheim at Carnegie Hall.
How did you get introduced to the Mayfair Songbook project, and what spiked your interest in it?
Well we were approached by Gavin Rankin who runs Bellamy’s. He told me that they had started doing these cabaret nights that were very successful. It sort of caught on and it got very popular, and then Gavin got word that I, Laura (my sister) and Eliza Lumley were all performers and did a cabaret together and had good reports all around so he thought we could do a good show there. He invited us to come down and do a show there, a weekend residence at Bellamy’s.
You just mentioned your sister. How is it working so closely with your sibling?
It’s good. She’s done a lot of television. We both have done a lot of things on stage together but I have been predominantly in America for a long time so we never really got a chance to work together much. It’s really nice coming together because we both have different approaches and different ideas and we both like to play characters in this show that we’re doing, so in a way we kind of enhance one another, so it’s really nice. It’s new as well, because we haven’t spent that much time working together.
You’re singing Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein amongst others. Were there any numbers that you were especially excited to perform?
We did a lovely version of ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ It is very much for three voices. We’ve got numbers like ‘A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square,’ which is very much about Mayfair in the 1940’s. Again, it’s a three part arrangement. We’ve taken a lot of these things, such as a Gershwin medley. We’ve arranged them all for three voices, and sort of tell little stories within each song. The real theme is actually about finding love in Mayfair over the years, and how you can find love in the most interesting of places.
Do you think that by having such a local theme, the show will be able to more easily connect to audiences?
That’s what we’re really trying to do. We’re trying to make it really about Mayfair through the years. We start with somewhat of a Noel Coward novella feel with the music, with songs like ‘The Nightingale Sang in Barkley’ Square, things like that, which are very much of the place. Then we try to figure out ways that we can work as a trio, playing one off against the other for a good story. It’s kind of more about meeting the characters in Mayfair. Some may be very glamorous; some may work in the Starbucks around the corner. Through these particular songs that everyone knows and loves, we can tell our own Mayfair tales within them. We’re also a sort of youngish crowd, so we’re really taking some of the old tunes and reinventing them and re-imagining them. It’s going to be fun. People are going to hear things in a very different way. It was a pretty smooth process actually. There was that challenge of making the older music more contemporary, and give them a fresh, new take. We worked pretty well with harmonies, we all built medleys together to bring songs to life in a sort of trio format. It’s been good fun; actually, I think it’s been very evocative.
Can you say a little bit about the venue?
Yes, the venue is tucked away off Barkley Square, literally a stone’s throw away. I’ve only actually been there once. I’ve never been there to see a cabaret or for dinner or anything. This opportunity literally came out of the blue. But the venue is great because it’s really intimate. It’s got a baby grand piano in the middle of the restaurant and we perform in the round. It’s going to be great for story telling and I think that it is ideal for cabaret, I really do.
You’re having a lot of current success in Opera North’s Ruddigore. How has that been? Yes, the critics have really taken to Ruddigore up there. Jo Davies the director and John Wilson the musician have really given this whole thing a new lease on life. It’s such an imaginative production, and the design is absolutely beautiful.
Any future plans other than Bellamy’s?
Yes, I’m actually off to Boston to do a role in a science fiction piece by a guy named Tod Machover, kind of a modern writer that’s using robots and various trickery designed at MIT. That show is very high tech, probably the most high tech show going on at the moment in America. Don’t ask me how that happened. (Laughter)
Quite the harsh turn after the Mayfair cabaret.
(Laughter) Yes I play a half android, half robot and I have a prosthetic arm that is designed to take notes out of your arm and bend them around and then you can throw them away. So you can sing simultaneously while having a duet with your prosthetic arm. Mayfair cabaret to science fiction robots. God, it’s never boring. (Laughter)
Any thing final to say on the upcoming production?
I think that it’s going to be a little surprise, a little nostalgia, and a little shock. It looks all very conventional, but the act that they’re going to get is going to have some surprising moments. It’s simply an escapist night of glamour and love, highlighting love stories from around Mayfair.
Hal Cazalet was speaking to Alex Mangini