Lessack and Mercer - too marvellous for words

Preview by Paul Nelson

THE first appearance of Lee Lessack at Larry's Room, the chic basement eaterie and fast becoming best nightclub in London, is an appealing one.

He presents himself as a small boy earnestly begging for attention, something he need not worry about. He got it.

Lee Lessack has a smart, café society voice. He also has an easy manner and is obviously at home in front of an audience. The audience on his first night, many of whom, like me, had never seen him before, took about five minutes before starting to beg for more.

The programme he has chosen, Too Marvellous For Words, is a collection of the songs of Johnny Mercer, a man who collaborated with many composers. He even wrote songs entirely on his own and was responsible as musician and lyricist for the Broadway smash hit starring Phil Silvers, Top Banana.

Here represented by amongst others such luminaries as Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Henry Mancini, Gene de Paul and Rube Bloom, his songs are given new life with witty interpolations and indeed revelations.

Anecdotes about Mercer abound, and this creator of more than a thousand songs, most of them top hits, is given a run for his money that he would, I am sure, have appreciated.

Standards follow standards in rapid succession. Songs like 'Come Rain or Come Shine', 'Any Place I Hang My Hat', 'Black Magic' and 'Blues in the Night' (all Arlen), and a medley of Mercer/Mancini numbers including 'Moon River' and 'The Days of Wine and Roses', are certainly moments to treasure. Some of Mercer's lighter, if not down right hilarious lyrics, 'The Watcha-Ma-Call-It' and 'The Bathtub Ran Over Again' were riotously received. Lee Lessack can certainly do it.

The second half of his bill is a choice of songs that really cannot hold a candle up to the talents of Johnny Mercer, even though it contains gems of the calibre as Kern's 'All The Things You Are'.

What the audience wanted was more of Lessack and Mercer, a tasteful combination, and one I am glad not to have missed.

Mr Lessack must return, and soon please. He brings an elusive and attractive quality to London's nightlife that has been missing for far too long.

Too Marvellous For Words, The Songs of Johnny Mercer, performed by Lee Lessack with John Boswell at Larry's Music Room, Pizza on the Park, 11 Knightsbridge, London SW1.