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Review: Savoring ‘One Night’ With a Hedonist Extraordinaire

Review: Savoring ‘One Night’ With a Hedonist Extraordinaire


Suzy Solidor was once on top of the world. Between the two world wars, this platinum-blonde siren wore several crowns as a queen of bohemian Paris: model, singer, entrepreneur, tastemaker, sexually polymorphous hedonist. Artists like Tamara de Lempicka and Man Ray captured her likeness, and she popped up in the 1936 film “La Garçonne” as the icily sensual star of a nightclub that doubled as an opium den. Viewers probably assumed she was playing herself.

You can see what drew the British performer and writer Jessica Walker to Solidor, whose artistry and wild life she honors in the delightful “All I Want Is One Night,” part of the Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59 Theaters. Ms. Walker, a classically trained mezzo-soprano, seems to have special affection for obscure music-hall and cabaret luminaries who shunned artistic and sexual conventions: Previous works to cross the Atlantic were “Pat Kirkwood Is Angry,” about the professional and sentimental ups-and-downs of the titular singer and actress, and the survey of cross-dressing female performers “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

In “All I Want Is One Night,” she adds another portrait to the 225 paintings and photographs of a woman who lived by her own rules. The show starts with the aging Solidor (Ms. Walker) dressed in a Navy uniform, insisting that she be called Admiral by visitors and her young maid, Giselle (Rachel Austin). The two women engage in perverse role-playing: “I don’t think Uncle has had his morning kiss,” Solidor teases Giselle, who complies.

Ms. Walker then backtracks to Solidor’s 1930s glory days, when she owned the anything-goes nightclub La Vie Parisienne. To evoke that setting, the theater has been transformed into a cabaret space, and the actors often wend their way among the tables. (Sarah Frankcom staged the original production in Britain; the “revival direction” is credited to the company.)

Solidor’s songbook drew from the then-popular genre of tragic seafaring chansons. What was novel about the show was Ms. Walker’s unabashed way of delivering torch ballads not just about loving women but about having sex with them, as in the fairly explicit “Ouvre” and “Obsession.” The songs have been translated into English by Ms. Walker, yet retain a distinctively French flavor, bolstered by the music director Joseph Atkins on piano and accordion.

The numbers are so good, in fact, that you wish there were more than the eight — including “Qu’on est bien,” in which Alexandra Mathie amusingly channels the transgender entertainer Bambi. (Ms. Mathie plays several roles, including Lempicka.)

The evening does not shy from Solidor’s less savory side. She drank too much and could be wolfish in her seductions. She kept her club going during World War II — “collaboration is what makes me such a good lay, sweetheart,” the singer quips to her long-suffering partner, Daisy (Ms. Austin).

In the end, though, “All I Need Is One Night” suggests, delicately and with bemused affection, that what befell Solidor was rather banal: She grew old, and had trouble accepting that she was no longer the center of attention. It may well be the only ordinary thing she ever did.

All I Want Is One Night
Through July 1 at 59E59 Theaters, Manhattan; 212-279-4200, 59e59.org. Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes.



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