Maria Kesselman has had such a brilliantly varied career that it’s hard to know where to begin to describe her as a performer. A graduate of The Guildhall School of Music & Drama and The Royal College of Music, she’s had numerous roles in musical theatre, performed in operas, sung with leading orchestras across Europe and released three solo albums. Kesselman is also an experienced cabaret artist and a leading Argentinean tango dancer.
Her performance at The Pheasantry demonstrated just what a versatile singer she is while, accompanied by pianist James Church, she performed her favourite songs. The evening got off to a sizzling start with Maria opening her set with, appropriately enough, ‘I Love a Piano’. Its soaring notes immediately captured our hearts, as did her version of Nancy LaMott’s ‘Listen to My Heart’.
Pausing, Kesselman reflected, “I’ve always loved the songs of Charles Azvanar, as he writes about honest human feelings and isn’t afraid to tackle any subject.” Nowhere is this more evident than in ‘Quiet Love’ which Maria sang, upright and elegant, to a spellbound audience.
She made us smile, however, with her jaunty rendition of ‘I Got It from Agnes’: do check out Tom Lehrer’s wry lyrics if you’re not familiar with them.
We were thrilled when Kesselman introduced her “wonderfully talented pupil” Jasmine to us. The pair duetted on ‘Flight’, their voices complementing each other perfectly.
The tone changed again as Maria began chatting to us about her dogs: “I have three of them: anyone who knows me knows that I’m crazy about dogs. I’ve had lots in the past, and been heartbroken every time one of them has died.” Who better than Pam Ayres to sum up those sentiments, in her classic ‘Tippy Tappy Feet’?
Kesselman brought the first set to an end with a moving performance of ‘Look Mummy, No Hands’, telling us “The lyrics make us realise that we only know the true value of a moment when it becomes a memory. This is for my mum”. Together, with ‘Carousel’, it made a haunting and unexpected end to the first set.
Opening the second set, and still in the mood for reminiscing, she mused: “My mother was crazy, but she was also a wonderful pianist. Whenever we had people around she would insist on us performing, her on piano – and me singing. This was one of our favourite party pieces: Barbara Streisand’s ‘What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?’”
Pensively, Maria remarked, “The pain of grief is the worst pain in the world. Have you ever lost someone you loved and wanted one more conversation to make up for the time that you thought you’d have forever?” As the audience winced in recognition, Kesselman continued, “Dillie Keane captures that feeling perfectly in this song, which she wrote after her best friend died suddenly.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after Maria sang us the lyrics, which will resonate with everyone: ‘I’m doing quite well, and business is good, and most of the time there aren’t enough hours in the day…yet sometimes I feel so sad.”
We were soon smiling again, though, as Maria performed ‘I Got Rhythm’ – always a crowd pleaser – and then, back came Jasmine to sing one of my all-time favourite show tunes, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, from Les Misérables. She has a beautiful voice and is a star in the making – but lacks the knowing weariness to pull off that particular song at this moment in time. It was a valiant effort, though.
Having treated us to William Quinn’s ‘I’d Rather Be Sailing’ Maria Kesselman saved the best for last with her encore: a fabulous rendition of Shirley Bassey’s ‘If We Only Have Love’. The perfect end to a highly enjoyable evening.