This may not be the right way to start this post, but I want to just put it out there: I love Tony Magee. He's a wonderful pianist, a wonderful accompanist, and I have good reason to believe he's also a wonderful person. I know Tony only to nod to in foyers, so I base that last assertion on bits of pieced-together and sometimes second-hand observation. But the first two were very much in evidence in his collaboration with Ian Croker at Teatro Vivaldi. And when I'm next in the market for a piano, I will be heading down to Davis Wheeler to buy it from Tony.
Anyway... A few songs into this revue I found myself wondering if the things that make a good person also make a good accompanist - an empathy with others, a lack of ego, and a readiness to put others first. This revue was all about Ian Croker, but it was Tony Magee who made it so. It was beautiful, sensitive work (with a special mention for the neat little quote from "March of the Gladiators" in "Puppet on A String", and when I remembered to look, I enjoyed watching Tony watching Ian almost as much as I enjoyed watching Ian himself.
Ian Croker himself was in fine form, and if not in his best voice ever, still had plenty of those rich deep tones we know and love. His opening gambit of "Wilkommen" would have seemed a bit cliched if it wasn't for his explanation that his first role in Canberra was as the MC in "Cabaret". His first set was largely a series of classic pop songs from the sixties, strung together with anecdotes about his youth that might go some way to explaining the man and performer he is today. The audience had come prepared to love him, and got a lot of love back; it was great fun, especially for anyone, like me, who is familiar with him only from his many and remarkably varied performances across the years, and the occasional encounter at a theatre bar, but hasn't got to know him personally. I savoured these anecdotes and I would have liked more of them (I have often wondered, for example, whether he actually studied theatre or is just a remarkable natural talent, and I still don't know). Set in this context, his performance of "What Makes A Man A Man" was palpably moving.
The second set contained no more anecdotes, alas - I hope this means he is saving a few for another bout - but a lighthearted and more varied repertoire of showtunes and cabaret that was right up my street, from Flanders & Swann to a reprise of his Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" earlier this year. There was a lovely cameo from Old Time Music Hall, there was a performance of "One For My Baby" that, if not word-perfect, was absolutely heartfelt, and a nicely-built "Forty-Second Street" that had the audience whooping.
If there was one disappointment, it might well lie only with my own increasing age and experience, and it is that I really hope in cabaret to find some undiscovered jewel I hadn't heard before, and as entertaining as the repertoire was, it was fairly familiar stuff. There's a different sort of charm in that, of course, which may be more appealing to many, and I do get about a hell of a lot. At the same time, if I know a pop song, it's a pretty bloody well-known pop song.
As for "I'm Still Standing", well, yes, he is, despite a somewhat snide cry of "that's water, Crokes!" from an audience member (whose name I could mention, but won't), and a couple of lapses of memory. To be fair, I saw Steve Ross forget the words of the same song last year, so it was pretty forgiveable, and unlike Ross, Ian Croker came back with the correct lyric. And yes, more than one table was quaffing the "Wasted Talent" sauv blanc. But if Ian Croker is in fact wasting his considerable talent in Canberra, then I'm glad he's wasting it on us.
Which brings me to the other part of the review: Teatro Vivaldi.
I've had some pretty good food at Vivaldi's, but this wasn't their night. Or perhaps it just wasn't mine, as some other menu choices arriving at surrounding tables looked more appetising than my own. My companion gave the mushroom and blue cheese tart the thumbs up, and it did look pretty good. The smoked salmon on a potato cake ought to have been failsafe, but instead of the delicious rosti-style creation of my imagination, the potato turned out to be a plain old deep-fried Pauline Hanson chip-shop potato scallop. It was just odd, and too greasy for the heapings of sour cream & guacamole that came with it, and by the time it got to me, quite cold. (It was an above-average guacamole, though, with some good jalapeno smokiness without the heat).
We both had the chicken in a coriander and cinnamon sauce for main, and again, it wasn't what I expected, and that aside just wasn't particularly good. I had expected a sort of tagine style dish, but I can't blame Vivaldi's for my daydreams, so that really wasn't the reason for my disappointment: big chunks of slightly dry chicken breast (white flabby skin still attached) were drizzled in a bland white sauce, with very little flavour of the spices. The cous-cous and beans might have been OK, but again, it was almost cold by the time it arrived. It was a generous serving, but wasted on me.
Things improved with dessert, a reasonable vanilla pannacotta lifted by a nice tart raspberry coulis and a lovely white chocolate sauce. No coffee, though, and the usual irritating as hell Vivaldi's quirk of making diners go over and stand at the bar hoping to get a bottle of something before their food arrives.
As I say though, I've eaten much better food here, and had some quality catered food from them too, so I'll put this down as a bit of an off night.