Review: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Review: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Bittersweet is the accurate cliché to apply to the wonderful collection of love songs presented by Northern Ireland Opera in their Salon Series at The MAC on Saturday. Culled mainly from American 20th century musical theatre, it took us right through the romantic rollercoaster.  Super talented singer Wendy Ferguson and accompanist Ruth McGinley did a terrific job outlining both sides of the big emotion.

We started with George and Ira Gershwin’s peerless The Man I Love from Lady Be Good. It’s hopeful but also a maybe situation. “Maybe I shall meet him Monday, maybe Tuesday…maybe not…”  she sings. She remains hopeful and Ferguson got that in her nicely lyrical delivery and precise diction.

If I loved you by Rodgers and Hammerstein was an early hit, written in the key of swoon although in fact in G major, but with some minor harmonic excursions as has much of this repertoire. However hard the chanteuse emphasises the qualification, If, we know she is besotted.

There was also a delightful account of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square with that sweetest of tunes by Manning Sherwin, apparently Margaret Thatcher’s favourite song. The romance was palpable in singing and musical backing.

We heard the title song, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, by Rodgers and Hart this time. This number with its instantly recognisable sequence of sevenths, inching their way up the scale, was so influential David Bowie inserted a quote into his Diamond Dogs album intro. It remains powerful, yet also disturbing as the girl who falls for the nightclub MC details the fact that whatever he does, remaining cold, she is tempted to go on loving him. But right at the end she says ‘finis’ to the ants in her pants. Ferguson sang her heart out here, alternately irritated, believably obsessed. This is a risqué number, getting away with open references to not sleeping because of something better partly because it pokes fun at the whole romantic idea.

The obsessive side of love also came out strongly in the Sondheim section. This was grown-up, chastening material with Losing my Mind sung by Conor Quinn with full attention to the madness of love.

Cole Porter’s So In Love gave another slightly harrowing account of Cupid’s arrow and the damage it can do with the lover allowed to be cruel, although she will always be kind.

Wendy Ferguson’s voice can do tuneful and ballsy, sometimes speeding a little into full throttle, and there was an enjoyable Always the Bridesmaid, also a murderous wife’s song. But the hour of incomparable writing ended happily and on the sweet side, not bitter at the passage of time, with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Hello, Young Lovers from The King and I.

If you’re interested in love and its music,, this show was heaven, directed by Cameron Menzies with panache against a red-tinted, beautifully lit set. John Gillen and Pete Doherty supported on drums and bass.  It comes to Derry/Londonderry at the Playhouse on May 25.

Jane Hardy 

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