For pure energy, playfulness and heart-on-sleeve emotion, she is in a league of her own. The last time I heard the American singer Natalie Douglas, she sprang a surprise with a tribute to Dolly Parton, of all people. Her latest show, Sammy & Nat & Stevie & Joe, turns out to be even more exhilarating.
Forty years after Stevie Wonder wrote You Haven’t Done Nothin’, a thunderous commentary on Nixon and Watergate, Douglas turns it into a wry put-down of Donald Trump. On the original recording Wonder had a little help from the Jackson 5 on backing vocals. Douglas can fall back only on the stark piano chords of her excellent musical director, Mark Hartman, yet the song loses none of its force.
Her version of Higher Ground, another Wonder anthem, is equally audacious, weaving in and out of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s Gonna Build a Mountain, which was part of Sammy Davis Jr’s repertoire.
Nat King Cole and the volcanic Count Basie singer Joe Williams are the other figures at the centre of attention. Douglas supplies a sprinkling of biographical information mixed with memories of her Californian childhood. She is a rare combination of girlishness and politics; as she has shown before, she knows her way around the Nina Simone songbook but probably has every episode of Charlie’s Angels stored in her memory too.
Unforgettable and Mona Lisa paid immaculate homage to Cole the balladeer. Mr Bojangles, which can be schmaltzy in the wrong hands, was delivered at just the right pensive tempo. Even better, in its way, was an arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s Something to Live For in which Douglas’s vocals had the grace of a Ben Webster tenor solo. There were moments throughout when she pushed a touch too hard, perhaps, but those minute flaws were a mark of her passion; she brings a soul diva’s intensity to each performance.
by CLIVE DAVIS
The title of her show – Four Women – is a reference to Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday. But it could just as easily apply to Natalie Douglas’s extraordinary range. When the mood takes her, the American vocalist swings as stylishly as any jazz diva; with her Rubenesque figure and plunging cleavage she makes a mesmerising blues mama as well. She is just as compelling in confessional Broadway mode, and that raucous giggle is the mark of an effervescent comedienne. Whenever she does a girlish double-take and screams “Awesome”, you might as well be listening to Kathy Griffin.
A true force of nature, she squeezes a phenomenal amount of material into the evening. Yet by the end, you simply want her to carry on into the small hours. The artists she is celebrating were strong and often abrasive characters, and all of them had to contend with racism, yet Douglas’s narrative strikes a deft balance between politics and showbiz. Pairing Strange Fruit with Mississippi Goddam was a brave ploy in such a chic venue. Evoking the glory days of that left-wing Manhattan nightspot, Café Society, Douglas carried it off.
Mr Bojangles and God Bless The Child were among the other highlights. It helped that pianist Mark Hartman had such sophisticated and unsentimental arrangements at his disposal. Where Douglas was bubbly and capricious, Hartman remained cool and angular. If the programme flirted with schmaltz on Believe In Yourself — taken from The Wiz — the remainder never faltered. Marriage Is For Old Folks allowed us a rare snapshot of Simone in carefree mood, while Lincoln’s song, Throw It Away, brought the show to a pensive climax before Douglas and Hartman unleashed a sleek encore of The Best Is Yet To Come. They will be playing an extra late-night show on Valentine’s Day. Do not miss them.
by CLIVE DAVIS
Natalie Douglas is one of those ebullient American singers who are constantly drawn towards the unconventional. One of her previous shows, for instance, was a celebration of Dolly Parton, of all people.
So perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that she came up with an idea as quirky as Stevie Songs. Apart from being two of the biggest names in pop, it wasn’t immediately obvious that Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks had a great deal in common. Yet by the end of this captivating show you began to see both artists in a fresh light.
From the opening bars of Wonder’s Superstition and Higher Ground it was clear that Douglas and her stylish musical director, Brian Nash, had softened the beat without compromising the music. In that extraordinary sequence of albums in the early 1970s, Wonder was his own best drummer. Douglas had only Nash’s piano and the urbane guitarist James Kitchman for company, but despite a few sound glitches the arrangements were every bit as propulsive as the originals. Douglas had the majesty of a true soul diva.
Ballads such as All in Love is Fair made a natural fit for a cabaret room. Happy Birthday less so perhaps. Douglas even had the courage to resurrect the title tune from that misconceived, deeply weird film soundtrack to The Secret Life of Plants. There’s very little likelihood that you will stumble across another number that contains the word “habillement”.
When she switched to the Nicks material Douglas’s timbre miraculously changed too. Suddenly the voice was lighter and more fragile. Melodies such as Dreams and Rhiannon might have seemed, on the face of it, overfamiliar, but the exquisite vocals forced us to pay more attention to the intricacies of the lyrics. Gold Dust Woman and Landslide were every bit as acute. Songs became poetry.
by CLIVE DAVIS
Dolly Parton? Really? The last time the vivacious, larger-than-life Natalie Douglas blew into town (there ought to be a hurricane named after her) she delivered a remarkable homage to Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday. The idea that the American singer would want to do the same for the queen of country music might seem a little outlandish.
It’s certainly true that Parton’s hits don’t draw out the same mesmerising range of colour and nuance in Douglas’s voice. But that quibble aside, this show turns out to be a remarkably engaging portrait of an artist who long ago proved that there is much more to her than a wig, curves and rhinestones.
There is an emotional affinity too. Douglas possesses a similar taste for mischief and irreverence; she too is a heart-on-sleeve performer who hovers between giggles and tears. And Dolly would surely approve of her mermaid-like dress sense.
Pianist Mark Hartman and guitarist Shanna Sharp etch an unobtrusive backdrop that remains faithful to Nashville traditions. The occasional vocal harmonies are a delight: Little Sparrow, for instance, opens with hymn-like simplicity. On Farther Along, Douglas’s gospel inflections are nothing short of majestic.
Jolene makes an appearance early on. Douglas also has a soft spot for the rather more sugary chart hit Here You Come Again, a number redolent of a run-of-the-mill Eighties sitcom. Still, Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright fits neatly into the programme, while Down From Dover, Parton’s own portrait of a pregnant teenager — controversial in its day — shifts into darker territory. While you probably have to be a Led Zeppelin fan to appreciate the Dolly-fied reworking of Stairway to Heaven, Douglas signs off with a precisely calibrated version of I Will Always Love You. That famous power ballad has seldom sounded more poignant.
by CLIVE DAVIS
MUSICAL THEATRE Review
Natalie Douglas – Stevie Songs: The Songs of Stevie Nicks & Stevie Wonder – The Pheasantry
by Admin on Monday, 22 May, 2017
MUSICAL THEATRE Review
Natalie Douglas – Hello Dolly: The Music of Dolly Parton – Crazy Coqs
by Admin on Thursday, 6 November, 2014
Natalie Douglas performs her show Hello Dolly: The Music of Dolly Parton at the Crazy Coqs, London until 8 November.
The whole concept of Natalie Douglas’ show intrigued me from the start – two buxom ladies, both having spent time in America’s south, and both lovers of blues and country music, but in other ways very different. Parton – petite with a sweet, high-pitched country twang, and Douglas – a lady with a huge voice and known, certainly here in London, for bringing us jazz, blues and her own take on the songs of singers such as Nina Simone.
Douglas, though, is an assured vocal musician and a trained actress. I had every confidence this show would work, and she does not disappoint. She opens with Parton’s anthem ‘Coat of Many Colours’ on the familiar theme of material poverty, but a home rich in love, which is echoed later in the evening with ‘Rocky Top’ (Felice & Boudleaux Bryant).
Parton’s own songs are juxtaposed with other work she covered, sometimes with artists such as Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’, and the wonderful ‘Here You Come Again’ (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil).
Douglas’ intelligent re-working of Parton’s continually heard and arguably overplayed songs, together with her rich deep vocal tones in ‘Jolene’, and her stunning arrangement of ‘I Will Always Love You’, compel us to connect with the material with a new visceral intensity. We hear meanings and draw perceptions totally anew. The starkness of either a single instrument, or sometimes two with Shanna Sharp’s guitar, accompanying the honeyed yet powerfully resonant voice that belongs to Douglas, suits the simplicity of the material so well, it is a wonder that amplified and more heavily produced versions are made at all.
Standout numbers are difficult to choose in this universally excellent programme. Some of the more unusual items however are the touching and resolute ballad ‘I Just Might’, re-launched by Parton as a solo after its success in her musical Nine to Five where it was featured as a group number; the yearning ballads ‘Down From Dover’ and ‘Little Sparrow’; and the surprising and effective inclusion of the hymn ‘Farther Along’ (Rev. W.A. Fletcher).
As well as the gentle sound of singer/songwriter guitarist Sharp, Douglas is joined on stage by the ever robust playing of her pianist/musical director Mark Hartman, both of whom also provide additional vocal harmony.
September 30, 2014 | By Tonya Pinkins
“Hello Dolly,” Natalie Douglas’s recent tribute to Dolly Parton at Birdland, provided a memorable cabaret experience. Her vocal instrument is incomparable; she segues easily from a smoky contralto to a pinging, piercing mix that is as rich and resplendent as early Streisand.
What makes her especially unique is her sunny disposition. She knows it and commented on it in the show, remarking that while her adoptive parents had very dark dispositions, she always saw the bright side of life. It is this combination of vacant valley girl crossed with Pillsbury doughboy delight that made for an evening of great story and song.
The show opened big with the uptempo “Rocky Top” (Felice & Boudleaux Bryant), after which came eight ballads: “Coat of Many Colors” (Parton), “After the Gold Rush” (Neil Young), “Single Women” (Michael O’Donoghue), “Little Sparrow” (Parton), “Here You Come Again” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil), “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (Bob Dylan), “Farther Along” (Rev. W.A. Fletcher and other writers variously credited), and my personal favorite of the evening, “Down from Dover” (Parton).
I don’t usually enjoy ballad-heavy sets, but Douglas pulled it off with a wink in her eye that let the audience know it was all gonna work out just fine. Her very essence oozes the British slogan “keep calm and carry on.” She can take us down to the depths, but no matter how low she goes, her eyes always end on the heavens, visioning a brighter tomorrow—and we believe in it, too.
There were plenty of crowd-pleasing hits: “Here You Come Again” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil), “Peace Train” (Yusuf Islam, fka Cat Stevens), “Stairway to Heaven” (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, additional lyrics by Parton), “I Will Always Love You” (Parton), and “Jolene” (Parton). All of the arrangements have been set so that Douglas’s numerous money notes ring out in just the right spot on every song.
Music director Mark Hartman played accordion, piano and provided backup vocals. His wonderful arrangements are simple and traditional, with no changes of tempo or feel, no mash-ups. The band, featuring Scott Kuney on guitar and mandolin, Michael Blanco on bass and Joe Choroszewski on drums, was impeccable; Shanna Sharp on vocals and guitar was a particular stand-out.
Natalie Douglas is a brilliant performer who has a tremendous vocal talent, charisma and command that tell you you don’t have to worry about a thing—she has taken care of everything for you. She offers a glimpse of the cabaret genre at its best.
Birdland – September 15
Natalie Douglas – Hello Dolly: Music of Dolly Parton
September 20, 2014
By Joel Benjamin
Natalie Douglas wrapping her soaring voice around the country-tinged music of Dolly Parton? At first the idea is a bit odd, but it works and reveals great treasures and deep meanings in songs that have grown too familiar and clichéd. In an exciting and generous program at Birdland on September 15th, Ms. Douglas, backed by an incredibly pliable band led by Mark Hartman, used her generous vocal and acting gifts to illuminate a repertoire rich in drama and emotion. She managed to re-mold her voice without duplicating Parton’s sweet twang and used much in her own background, including much time spent in Texas, to help her find both the lushness and subtlety of these songs.
She began with “Rocky Top” (Felice & Boudleaux Bryant), a sweet reverie about a materially poor, but emotionally rich home, a theme also explored in “Coat of Many Colors,” Parton’s tender evocation of mother love. Also quietly intense was Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” about a broken heart, enhanced greatly by Shanna Sharp’s vocal harmonies and guitar playing. Parton’s songs dominated the program running the gamut from the above two semi-autobiographical numbers to the longing ballad “I Just Might” and two of Parton’s anthems, “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” both of which Ms. Douglas performed exquisitely, going from the pathos of the former to the frustrated passions of the latter.
Songs by other writers included “Here You Come Again” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil), given a world-weary spin, and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” sung with a twang to Mark Hartman’s colorful accordion accompaniment.
Ms. Douglas generously shared tidbits about her life, introduced several cabaret celebrities in the audience such as Julie Wilson and Anita Gillette and, best of all, was honored by the club’s management with a photograph on the wall, a jazz version of having your caricature on Sardi’s wall—a high compliment. She deserved the tribute as well as the long, warm ovation she received from the packed, sold-out house.
Her band was completed by Scott Kuney on guitar & mandolin, Michael Blanco on bass and Joe Choroszewski on drums, all of whom were exemplary.
New York, NY
Natalie Douglas is the perfect cabaret performer to do justice to four fabulous female vocalists—Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln—all of whom knew, loved and admired each other. Douglas distilled the essence of them all in her 90-minute tribute show at Birdland, calling on her ability to use different voices to capture the style of each of these divas. Her self-deprecating humor and interesting storytelling made the transition from one vocalist to another flawlessly smooth.
Douglas opened with “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” allowing her to display an amazing range and enunciation worthy of Horne. “Stormy Weather” was followed by an amusing story about how Waters, who introduced the song, hated Horne. Holiday’s signature song “God Bless the Child” was sung beautifully. Douglas’s ability to connect with the audience made her tearful renditions of “Strange Fruit” and “Mr. Bojangles” especially moving tributes to Holiday and Simone. “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was done delightfully, as Simone had performed it. The closing number was a very emotional performance of Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” followed by the encore “The Best Is Yet to Come,” which I believe to be true of the career of Natalie Douglas.
September 8, 2014
MUSICAL THEATRE Review
Natalie Douglas – Crazy Coqs
by Admin on Wednesday, 12 February, 2014
Natalie Douglas performs at the Crazy Coqs, London
Natalie Douglas sings Four Women: Nina, Lena, Abbey & Billie at the Crazy Coqs, London, until 15 February.
New York jazz and cabaret star Natalie Douglas is one of those performers who fills a room with warmth and sheer loveability just by coming on the stage.
Her second residency at the Crazy Coqs, one of the great success stories of London’s music scene thanks to our hostess, the multi-talented Ruth Leon, bringing over consummate artists we had never seen before and were being deprived off until she and this lovely room came along 15 months ago, is already such a hit that a second, late-night show has been hastily arranged for Valentine’s evening.
Not one but two encores were required before a wildly enthusiastic first-night audience were willing to let her go.
Yet when she came over the same week last year with her Nina Simone tribute, few, other than regular visitors to the New York cabaret scene, had even heard of her.
With a voice big enough to fill the Albert Hall never mind a 66-seater like the Coqs, this is an artist who can do the lot – funny, serious, loud, quiet, slow and fast, soulful and scatty. And she has a quality that all great performers in this intimate genre possess and is impossible to fake, a contagiousness in her storytelling that brings everyone in the audience immediately onside.
Here she gives us the songs of four black icons of the last century, Simone again, Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday, and puts her own special spin on every item. Not just an entertainer (with Mark Hartman the perfect foil on piano), she is an educator as well as she relates the stories behind such dark and disturbing songs as ‘Strange Fruit’ and ‘Mississippi Goddam’ which played their part in helping to change the status of black people in the States.
It is not so very long ago that Lena Horne was denied the key part of Julie LaVerne in the 1951 movie Show Boat – a role given to the non-singing Ava Gardner and made all the worse because Gardner was a personal friend – simply because the Production Code banned interracial relationships in films. Little wonder Horne, a civil rights activist who got blacklisted for her political views, got disenchanted with Hollywood and concentrated increasingly on her nightclub work.
Hard to believe now that, apart from the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky in 1943, Horne never had a leading movie role, only stand-alone singing cameos, because that would have involved re-editing for states not allowed to show films with black performers.
Equally hard to believe that while blacks could entertain and be adored by white, segregated audiences, they were not permitted to eat in the same restaurants after shows nor, in some cases, sit in the same part of a bus.
Yet Douglas does not ram these atrocities down our throats because she realises we have come to be entertained, not lectured.
And she does it in such a attractively persuasive way that we go home fully aware of a history lesson we must never be allowed to forget for, while the songs that these four women wrote and performed so brilliantly undoubtedly sped along a greater acceptance of their colour, things are still far from perfect, not in the States, not in the UK, not anywhere.
But race is far from being the only subject. For instance, we learn that the perfectly-sung ‘Say It Isn’t So’ was one of two songs – ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ the other – that Irving Berlin, during a period of depression, threw away in 1932 as not being up to scratch, and it is only thanks to a copyist who rescued them from the trash can that we can hear them now as the immortal standards they turned out to be.
And we discover that Abbey Lincoln was not only originally billed as “the sepia Marilyn Monroe” but even wore Marilyn’s dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (without needing any padding!).
A personal favourite from this glorious 16-song evening was ‘Mr Bojangles’, an evergreen hit for Simone which country singer Jerry Jeff Walker wrote while serving time in a New Orleans jail for public intoxication. We, too, go home intoxicated because the way the formidable Douglas inhabits them, every one is a cracker.
Four Women: Nina, Lena, Abbey and Billie – Natalie Douglas at The Crazy Coqs
Reviewed by: Tom Vallance
Four Women: Nina, Lena, Abbey and Billie
A tribute to Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday
Music & lyrics by Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Herbert Baker, Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler, Leon Carr, Earl Shuman, E. Y. Harburg, Jerry Jeff Walker, Arthur Herzog, Rube Bloom, Johnny Mercer, Abel Meeropol, Irving Berlin, Charlie Smalls, Cy Coleman, and Carolyn Leigh
Natalie Douglas (singer) & Mark Hartman (piano)
The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly Circus, London
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Natalie Douglas had a great success last year making her debut at The Crazy Coqs performing a tribute to Nina Simone. She makes a welcome return featuring the lives and songs of four women – Simone again, plus Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Abbey Lincoln. All four were not only phenomenal song stylists but also brave, independent women and staunch activists. Though part of the evening inevitably deals with their battles they had to maintain dignity and equality, it is far from being downbeat for it is primarily a celebration of their achievements and artistry. I can think of few performers who maintain such a joyous rapport with their audience, Douglas’s bubbly vivacity lights up “this beautiful jewel-box of a room.”
She does not try to imitate the ladies in question, but brings her own flair to the numbers, her voice strong and secure – emotionally throat-catching and cheekily humorous. She opens unconventionally with a ballad – one of the greatest, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II’s ‘Can’t help lovin’ that man’ from Show Boat, sung by Horne in MGM’s biopic of Kern. (One might take issue with her statement that Horne wanted to play Julie in MGM’s film version of the musical, since a key factor of the plot is that Julie passes for white.) Douglas does a soaring version of Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler’s ‘Stormy weather’, a signature song of Horne’s, though it had been introduced at the Cotton Club many years earlier by Ethel Waters. Douglas tells an amusing story of Horne’s idolising Waters and her pleasure when learning that they would both have roles in the film, Cabin in the Sky. On the first day of shooting she discovered that Waters hated her!
Douglas highlights the songwriting skills of three of her subjects. Holiday shares with Arthur Herzog the credit for the bitter ‘God bless the child’, inspired by young Holiday’s being refused money by her mother, a minister, but Simone and Lincoln were the most prolific of the four. The first civil-rights song that Simone wrote was one of the most rousing, the scathing ‘Mississippi Goddam’, a spine-tingling highlight with its seductive fast-rolling rhythm and potent interruptions of “Go slow” from Mark Hartman. Simone wrote the number after four children were killed in a church targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. She also wrote ‘Four women’, a compelling account of African-American women whose lives were shaped by their background of slavery. Douglas also includes the stark classic inspired by lynching, Abel Europol’s ‘Strange fruit’, honoured by the record industry, and from Lincoln’s catalogue she delivers ‘Throw it away’ and the pulsating ‘Wholly Earth’.
A musical version of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which ran off-Broadway in 1964 with a score by Leon Carr and Earl Shuman, provides Douglas with the engagingly humorous ‘Marriage is for old folks’, which states of marriage, “Whaddya got? Two people watching TV.” When it comes to standards, Douglas displays impeccable taste, with Arlen & ‘Yip’ Harburg’s ‘Happiness is a thing called Joe’, Irving Berlin’s ‘Say it isn’t so’, Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer’s ‘Day in, day out’ and the haunting ‘Mr Bojangles’, which Douglas points out was not written as an homage to Bill Robinson but was conceived in a prison cell by Jerry Jeff Walker. As Douglas approaches the end of her beautifully structured act she announces her final number, quipping, “which in true cabaret tradition means my final two numbers”. We would have happily settled for a dozen more.