Marlene Verplanck charms at The Crazy Coqs


Way back, Pizza on the Park was the go-to place for sophisticated jazz and cabaret. Not anymore. It’s long gone. Now, Crazy Coqs, set deep below Piccadilly and furnished in the kind of Art Deco style that makes you think the Great Gatsby (or possibly Leonardo Di Caprio himself) could walk in any minute, has become the new haven for classy performers who relish its close-to ambience. And for punters who think the same.

The diminutive songstress Marlene Verplanck was always at home in Pizza on the Park and has built a UK fan-base through her continuing visits here; this week she’s making her debut at Crazy Coqs (she's there through to Saturday 22 March). Happily for those who know her work, her mix of Great American Songbook swingers and plaintive paeans to unrequited love remains both beguiling and yes, life-enhancing. She stands still, is never histrionic, and picks unhackneyed songs by great composers, concentrating on letting the lyrics do their work, telling stories, and allowing us to relish their value. And all with a smile on her face.

Marlene has always been noted for her clarity, her vocal warmth and her ability to top and tail a song with a telling burst of scat or a sustained high note. These abilities continue as do her unerring taste and innate sense of dynamics and pacing. For all this to happen as cleverly as it did on this, her opening night, her accompanists needed to be alert and suitably adroit. She has charts for everything and John Pearce at the piano read them brilliantly, soloing with panache as Paul Morgan, increasingly Churchillian in aspect and steadfast in support, laid down a firm bass line. Just to hear Marlene sing a song like ‘The Party Upstairs’ with its sense of momentary exclusion or ‘I Keep Going Back to Joes’, a forlorn yearning for a lost love is an experience to be savoured. She may be the last of her kind, a veteran now with a pedigree that goes back to the days of touring big bands, but she loves these songs, sings them with pin-sharp intonation and above all with feeling. Get down to the Crazy Coqs while you can.

– Peter Vacher