BWW Review: JOE STILGOE: CHRISTMAS AT THE MOVIES at Lyric Hammersmith
If like me you've been struggling to get into the festive spirit this year, what you needed was to be at the Lyric Hammersmith for Joe Stilgoe's one-night-only (but recorded for BBC Radio 2) show Christmas at the Movies. A classier and more joyful pre-Christmas treat would be hard to find.
Joe is a consummate jazz pianist and singer, and was accompanied throughout by his double bass player, guitarist, drummer and three-man brass section. Three special guests were also invited on stage to join the band for a couple of numbers each: West End leading lady Louise Dearman, saxophonist Jess Gillam (a BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist in 2016), and the multi-talented Rob Brydon.
This was an evening based mainly around songs featured in a whole range of Christmas movies, although Joe pointed out his particularly sophisticated taste in seasonal films (including Die Hard, Elf, Home Alone and The Muppet Christmas Carol).
Louise Dearman and Joe performed a fun duet of Baby It's Cold Outside, as sung by Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell in Elf, and followed it with an alternative version missing out some of the more morally dubious lyrics which have been the subject of recent debate. Dearman also tackled O Holy Night and took on the role of Kermit/Bob Cratchit for One More Sleep Til Christmas.
The next guest Jess Gillam provided one of the highlights of the evening, duetting with Joe on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Their rendition was every bit as poignant and beautiful as Judy Garland's in Meet Me in St. Louis. Jess's exceptional musicianship was also showcased on a piece accompanied just by Joe on piano, with the other musicians on stage left simply shaking their heads at her talent.
Rob Brydon, meanwhile, whipped out his Elvis impression with a version of Here Comes Santa Claus, and also joined Joe in an improvised number about terrible Christmas presents, based on suggestions from the audience.
Joe's improvisational skills, however, came to the fore even more sharply when he invited the crowd to shout out song titles and quite brilliantly worked several of them together into a medley, in spite of some wildly different musical styles. Now that's what I call a Christmas party piece!
Other highlights included a jazzy version of Frosty The Snowman, with Joe and several band members standing around a single mic centre stage (see photo), and a couple of delightful festive Stilgoe-penned tracks, Mr Panatone and December Lights.
There are often disagreements over what to watch or listen to on Christmas Day. But I guarantee that if you can wrest control of the remote from your assembled family and friends, they'll all find something to enjoy in this selection box of treats.
Highlights of Joe Stilgoe: Christmas at the Movies will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 at 18.00 on Christmas Day
Photo credit: Scott Rylander