Monday, 31 August 2015

Theatricals - Anthony Newley

Anthony Newley's extraordinary and wondrous life is too big a story to be told here. But the idea that a cockney kid from the East End could take on the musical, the most American of art forms, and make it his own, without compromising his origins; that he could turn himself into a major international star, commanding the respect of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr et al - this is truly inspiring. His achievement in conquering Broadway with Stop the World - I Want to Get Off (1961) is in some ways more impressive even than the British Invasion of the Beatles and the Stones.

This song, though, is from a much later date. By the mid-1970s, Newley's career was drifting, and he seemed an increasingly isolated figure, a leftover from an earlier era of entertainment. In particular, the musical was seemingly moribund, with his own latest attempt - the 1975 film Mister Quilp - failing to revive the genre. And there had been no new records since 1972's Ain't It Funny.

It'd be nice to say that his 1977 album The Singer and His Songs reversed that trend and re-established him as one of the key players on the world stage. But it didn't. It largely went unnoticed, so much so that, as far as I know, it's not been released on CD. It was, however, perhaps the finest collection of songs he ever recorded. And this - 'The Man Who Makes You Laugh' - is the last track on the album.

This live performance was recorded in cabaret at Monte Carlo, and it's fabulous. Newley's sense of the theatrical requires no make-up or costumes; he just lets the character take over his body.

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