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This cabaret is heart-stopping

By Gary Smith
Special to The Spectator

Susan GilmourBrilliant is a word bandied about far too much, especially in the effusive world of the theatre. In this case, however, it's the only one that will do.

I'm talking about Susan Gilmour's stunning new show The Lady Sings The Tunes. It's in the Studio Space at Theatre Aquarius and it's a riveting roller-coaster ride through Gilmour's astounding career.

Moment for moment this is one of the best cabaret shows I've seen anyplace, anytime. It's a master class in how to take a song and sing it from the inside out. It searches you out in the dark, clutches you by the throat and carries you to a heartland of musical theatre that is, frankly, quite amazing.

In any number of big musicals, from Man Of La Mancha to Cats, Gilmour has passionately sung her heart out. She brought the house down on Broadway in that barnburner of a show Les Misérables, playing the battered heart of poor lonely Fantine. But nothing she has done before prepared me for the way Gilmour makes contact on the cabaret stage.

This is a confident, thrilling performance that radiates musical perfection as well as personal charm.

What surprised me most was the way Gilmour was able to reveal her own passionate, vulnerable heart. In this two-hour journey through a carefully selected songbook she quivers with undiluted energy and life.

Striding on stage, in a smart black outfit that clings to her elegant frame like new skin clings to a poised and perfect snake, Gilmour looked sassy and sexy.

Her opening number, a special piece of material that segued nicely into a personal story about her life, was as classy as anything you'd hear in a first class New York nightclub.

Later, sitting on top of a baby Steinway, she let long legs emerge triumphantly from the folds of fluttering pants, eyes wide with amazement at her cheeky act of defiance.

The songs just kept coming and coming. Don't Cry For Me Argentina quivering with barely sublimated rage. Love For Sale snarled with an exotic and suggestive pout. As Long As He Needs Me, was a passionate, mind-blowing wail only matched by Judy Garland's desperate, driven version of this tune.

Then came Stephen Sondheim's anthem to life, Being Alive, its final modulated notes reaching the rafters in a cry of impossible exultation and, yes, pain.

Supported wonderfully by the astounding Diane Leah, a woman who makes a piano sound like a whole symphony orchestra, Gilmour gives a performance that suggests elegant nights at New York's Bon Soir, or better yet, romantic ones in The Oak Room at the fabled Algonquin.

Max Reimer has staged this electrifying evening with utter simplicity and genius and Steve Newman has contributed the perfect setting that elegantly frames this unique star.

For goodness sake, go see this show for the sheer joy of discovering Susan Gilmour in cabaret. Go see it to know what a true star this lady is. Go see it to understand how one woman in a darkened theatre can seek you out and make you feel she is singing just for you. This isn't a cabaret concert, it's riveting, heart-stopping theatre.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 25 years.