Paulus and music director Jordan Clarke took their show Songs 2 to Pizza Express Live in Holborn on October 16th and Gavin Brock was there to review the show for Cabaret Scenes. Read the full review here.
“You say I’m what’s wrong with the world,” a defiant Paulus sang through scarlet painted lips, his bulbous smoky eyes lined with thick mascara. “There’s a rip in the fabric. Let’s tear it down, make me a dress!” This blistering refrain from the opening number, “Queen Clown,” could hardly have better set the stage for the themes of belonging and cheerful nihilism that peppered Paulus’ self-penned songs. Nor could they have better complemented the performer’s visually arresting black-and-red, semi-drag ensemble, which consisted of rubber leggings, stilettos, sequins, and pearls and rhinestones, all topped off with an oversized fascinator.
As one might gather from the show’s title, this outing represented the piece’s second incarnation, the first having been (by his own concession) “a bit dour.” This was Songs 2: The Revenge, and it found Paulus in a playful spirit: “We’re in a much better mood now Boris is gone.” Dour this evening certainly was not. Even musical numbers with titles such as “Everything Is Shit and We’re Going to Die” were surprisingly upbeat, with the audience encouraged to joining in the “la-la-la” chorus with aplomb.
Commenting on the spontaneous nature of cabaret and the lowering of the fourth wall (Paulus doesn’t refer to himself as “the cabaret geek” for nothing), he effortlessly drew joy from the unpredictable and unscripted: microphone mishaps, biting repartee directed to individual attendees, and slips of the tongue. All of these were folded into the proceedings with the panache of an expert showman who had than 30 years’ experience on the international stage.
The dozen or so songs he performed (penned in collaboration with his staggeringly accomplished music director Jordan Clarke) were by turn wistful, scathing, and achingly poignant. With a Sondheimian ear for harmony and musical storytelling, Clarke’s satisfyingly complex piano arrangements perfectly matched the bravura wit of Paulus’ disarmingly specified lyrics. Each number was a carefully stitched patchwork tapestry of images that combined to paint a portrait of life at an angle, tinged with sardonic humor and genuine pathos. The songs “Tribe” and “The Theatre Book Song,” in particular, expressed the yearnings of a misfit for a sense of belonging; they betrayed a sincere vulnerability beyond the flamboyant exterior that could not fail to move the listener.
With its catalogue of songs five years in the making, Songs 2 was a stunning accomplishment that represented a welcome addition to the list of cabaret songs certain to outlive their creators. If Paulus really was looking to find his tribe, he need look no further than to the adoring crowd that hung onto his every word with sincere adulation.