Mitchell Butel – Killing Time

Hayes Theatre, November 9

Butel resMitchell Butel calls his new cabaret show Killing Time, a reference not to the bloody climaxes of action movies, but to that fourth dimension which counts down our lives until we bow out. Dour premise for a show, you might think, but Butel sprinkles it with abundant charm as he spins a sunrise-to-sunrise cycle of songs with temporal references, and interpolates them with poems and anecdotes about perceptions and effects of time.

The importance of Butel’s charm cannot be overstated. It helped disguise the less successful songs and, when combined with his self-deprecating humour, ensured even the dodgier gag-lines work.

The other ace up his sleeve is even rarer among cabaret performers than charm: he takes risks. Who else would open such a show with Kurt Elling’s lyric to Pat Metheny’s and Lyle Mays’ Minuano? The daring was all the greater given that Butel is fundamentally a musical theatre singer rather than a jazz singer. This opening gave his trio of Daryl Wallis (keyboard), Michael Galeazzi (bass) and Joe Accaria (drums) room to stretch just a little, and thereby immediately conditioned us to absorb the music as more than merely crisp accompaniment.

The medley of morning songs was a weak link. Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning suffered from the bass drum being too dominant, and Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 was just too cheesy, even if there was novelty value in hearing it paired with Pink Floyd’s Time!

Much more successful was the gentle heat haze evoked by Lazy Afternoon, while a version of Round Midnight largely shed that masterpiece’s jazz veneer, and yet still worked surprisingly well.

Two songs epitomised Butel’s particular flair even better: One For My Baby struck an ideal balance between his show-biz sensibilities and his jazz ones, and This Moment, which was sung unamplified against the piano-mimicking keyboard, emphasised the guileless honesty with which Butel goes about his work.

Mitchell Butel: Hayes Theatre, November 23, 30 & December 9.