From the outset the jazz club on the top floor of Toulouse Lautrec appears to have a cosy rustic atmosphere, like one that we'd associate with a gazebo. However, we very quickly realise as Alissa Finn’s Some Enchanted Evening cabaret progresses, that between the overwhelming heat, lack of air flow and amplification of sound to the point of pain, this is a very poorly designed cabaret space that is completely unsuitable for audience members, especially during the summer.
The volume that she produces through the strength of her voice is enough to give anyone tinnitus, or in my case, a headache.
The cabaret itself is fine. Accompanied by Math Roberts on the piano, with Aaron Oliver as a storyteller, and guest musicians Nitai Levi and Woogie Jung, and in a soprano that is often at a pitch that only dogs would hear if it weren’t for the exorbitant volume of her mic, Finn explores the meaning of home through fairy tales, sometimes stretching the limits of a song’s purpose and message to fit her rambling narrative.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening and Cinderella are too obvious for Finn, as she instead leans heavily on Stephen Sondheim’s catalogue, although her song choice varies from his better known On The Steps Of The Palace from Into the Woods to Take Me To The World from Evening Primrose. To her credit, the cabaret does span genres, from more indie, alternative style-songs like Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights - of which Finn’s rendition has to be my favourite - to opera with Charles Gounod’s Je Veux Vivre. But unlike Lev Tolstoy’s Natasha Rostova in No One Else by Dave Malloy, Finn’s cabaret and characters don’t really show much growth or development over the course of the evening. Despite this command of different styles of music, Finn has chosen songs sung from the point of view of the ingenue, which links the cabaret, but is a tiring repetition that limits Finn’s performance until her encore of The Girl in 14G, where we really see how impressive a performer she can be as she leans into the full use of her voice.
Oliver and Levi’s contributions are perhaps the most interesting parts of the evening. Oliver is a talented storyteller who understands the nuance and language of fairytales, and their stories are simply engrossing. Levi performs a couple of original songs that provide a nice respite and bring a calm over the evening, like a breath of cool air that would be very welcome within Toulouse Lautrec’s cabaret space. Jung’s rendition of Sondheim’s Being Alive is a brave attempt at a well-known song, especially because of how familiar the song is, but who seems to equate the term ‘emotional nuance’ to ‘simply get louder with every phrase’, constantly using vibrato which creates a rather unpleasant warbling and monotony throughout the song.
There’s no doubt that Finn’s a talented performer, but the lack of variation - like the venue - is a little stifling. The volume that she produces through the strength of her voice is enough to give anyone tinnitus, or in my case, a headache.