Songs in the Key of Black, by Nicholas Christo | Directed by Neil Gooding | Musical direction by Isaac Hayward

Neil Gooding Productions & Hayes Theatre Co | Hayes Theatre, Potts Point, Sydney | Until 12 April

Songs in the Key of Black is a solo vocalist show from Lucy Maunder.  Her repertoire is based around the songs of Irving Berlin, one of the most prolific and popular songwriters of the 20th century, composing as he did, more than 1000 songs, among them White Christmas — the best-selling single of all time.

 Berlin was a self-taught pianist who never read music, so many of his songs were composed in the key of F-sharp, hence the show’s title. Isaac Hayward, musical director, obviously does read music and here he expertly and energetically accompanies Maunder on piano.

The collection of songs chosen evokes the shady speakeasy scene of New York. They are prefaced with a short story that introduces the various types of songs, suggesting the mood and the history that surrounds them. Succinctly crafted, Nicholas Christo’s script sprinkles the proceedings with a taste of humour and sentiment as you are asked to imagine a bygone era.

The audience rapport during narration is low key. Maunder chooses instead to let her admiration for the songs tell the real tale. There are far too many to mention and some are more renowned than others: Heaven, I’m in Heaven, Puttin’ on The Ritz, How Deep Is the Ocean?, What’ll I Do and Alexander’s Ragtime Band are the obvious classics. But the lesser known numbers, personally speaking, were of special interest — Mr Monotony, for example, and Yiddisha Nightingale.

Maunder has a fabulous voice ... defined, clear and impeccable in delivery. Her phrasing is also superb, demonstrating her expertise gained in part, one imagines, from her work in Into the Woods and Doctor Zhivago.

The show’s staging is simply sparse, consisting of a table and chair and. of course, a piano from which Isaac Hayward’s dexterous fingers grace the keys with perfect precision. His is also a dynamic and masterful performance.

Fans of Irving Berlin will love this highly polished show.

Above and below: Lucy Maunder ... lets her admiration for the songs tell the real tale.