Isabelle Georges in “Oh Là Là—A Passionate Journey Through the French Repertoire and Beyond”

March 7, 2024

In spite of its rather academic subtitle, “Oh Là Là—A Passionate Journey Through the French Repertoire and Beyond was a delightful showcase for and introduction to the many sides of French musical star, Isabelle Georges. Seconds into her lively opening number, “La Grande Évasion” (music by Georges & P. Maniez, lyrics by Georges), she managed to burst the seams of the cabaret stage at 54 Below and create a New York version of a Paris music hall revealing herself to be a good old-fashioned triple (if not quadruple) threat—singing, dancing, and acting up a storm with a seemingly endless supply of energy, charm, and talent. Just as the audience might well have been settling in for an evening of Gallic musical pleasures, the rug is pulled out from under them in the most enjoyable way as Georges dives into Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting It Together,” which became even more endearing as the accented vocalist maneuvered Sondheim’s dizzying lyrics with great aplomb.  

Isabelle Georges (Photo: Claire McConnell)

The singer benefited from perfectly realized backing by Tom Hubbard on bass, Yacine Boularès on reeds, and Ray Marchica on drums, all led and arranged by her partner in rhyme and rhythm, Frederik Steenbrink on piano and vocals. They remained impressive through a truly expansive variety of styles and material. Georges displayed a very personal (and highly effective) way with patter—most songs began with what amounted to a snapshot or a cameo, perfectly embodying what was to come in the lyric, using a minimum of words and a maximum of depth and feeling. Often she would announce a year to set the scene and then lead into the lyrics with cinematic flair. Her uncanny ability to encapsulate the story in such an economical fashion proved invaluable, especially on the French songs.  

And there were, as the title indicates, French songs in abundance. Her “C’est Si Bon” (André Hornez, Henri Betti) basked in a glow of warm-hearted nostalgia, while Charles Aznavour’s “Le Temps” thrilled with anthemic triumph near the close of the set. Revealing the story of her grandmother’s escape from Germany during World War II, she performed Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” in Yiddish (using her own translation) transforming the song into a very different and very touching story indeed. It was a stunning interpretation. Another Brel highlight was “Au Suivant,” which most Americans know as “Next” from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris; it was a chilling, lacerating tour de force, proving that his contemplation of war and peace, love and hate, conformity and individuality, is sadly never out of date.  

One of Georges’ triumphs across the pond was the French incarnation of Maury Yeston’s December Songs. The composer, who was in attendance, provided another highlight for the show with a new song. “The Girl Who Stole Your Heart,” which he wrote for her. Cole Porter’s “Les Poitrines de Paris” and “I Love Paris” kept the Gallic-American blend percolating nicely.  “Rhythm is My Business” (Saul Chaplin, Sammy Cahn) was set aflame with Georges’ fiery tap dancing, especially when trading lines with the drummer.  At one point, the singer left the stage in the capable, impressive hands of Steenbrink who did a powerful take on “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” (Michel Legrand, Marilyn & Alan Bergman) at the piano, rivaling Tony Bennett’s classic version.  

“La Vie en Rose” (Louiguy, Edith Piaf) was perhaps an inevitable closer, but thanks to a surprising and inviting arrangement it held its own among the evening’s musical treasures. A lovely encore of “I Wish You Love” (Charles Trenet, Albert Askew Beach) sent the appreciative audience out into a New York winter’s night with a warm smile. Isabelle Georges is a star—the United States just hasn’t had the time to realize it yet. Her knowing, cheering fans who filled 54 Below await her return.


Presented at 54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., NYC, February 22, 2024.


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”