“Where are they now, those women who stared from the mirror?”
I saw Kim Criswell for the first time onstage earlier this month in Carrie and whilst I may not have loved the show, her shimmering soprano and performance was a stand-out for me. It happened to be an evening with a Q&A afterwards too and she came across as an absolute hoot – pint in hand, regaling us all with tales from the past, I instantly wanted to know more about who she was. So where else to turn first but to her 1999 CD Back To Before.
A glimpse at the track-listing doesn’t immediately show a huge sense of adventurousness. Four Lloyd Webber tracks, Oliver! and Les Mis elsewhere, it’s not really the stuff to make you sit up and pay attention. That happens when Criswell opens her mouth – whether fabulously wrestling Evita’s ‘Rainbow High’ into submission or dealing out a bold and brassy ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, there’s something remarkable about the forceful control of her vocal.
There’s (comparative) restraint too. ‘On My Own’ is suffused with all of Éponine’s vulnerability, The Man of La Mancha’s ‘What Does He Want Of Me’ is a gloriously old-school soprano classic and ‘Mr Monotony’, an Irving Berlin track new to me – taken from a Jerome Robbins anthology show – builds beautifully into a Broadway showstopper. Criswell may have lived in the UK for many years now but she is Broadway to the bone and this is evident throughout the album.
The rendition of ‘Broadway Baby’ that opens the collection doesn’t really do it for me, but a stunning sequence of four songs shows Criswell off at her very best. The delicate duet (with herself, natch!) of Sideshow’s ‘Who Will Love Me As I Am?’ and the heartfelt emotion of another Berlin classic in ‘Count Your Blessings’ give way to the impassioned splendour of Ragtime’s ‘Back To Before’ and an unexpected but extraordinary version of Annie’s ‘Tomorrow’. It’s a heady combination and an utterly winning one – the next concert she announces, I will be there, come what may.