Gareth Snook will join the cast of Cafe Society Swing for its June showing at the Leicester Square Theatre in the role of club-owner Barney Josephson. He spoke to us about it:
Gareth Snook’s previous stage roles include Andre in Phantom of the Opera, Skyrocket in Guys and Dolls and Bamatabois in Les Miserables.
He plays three roles in Cafe Society Swing: an investigative journalist, a bartender, and Barney Josephson, the real-life founder of Cafe Society and an idealist who believed in both jazz and racial equality. Opened in 1938, Cafe Society became the first racially integrated club in New York City.
He admitted this show was a first: ‘Until now I’d never engaged that seriously with jazz – though I have done gigs with a big band doing Sinatra-style standards. And I love Frank’s singing, any day of the week.’
‘But through working in musical theatre I did get to know the great American Songbook – for example I did a Cole Porter show, Cole, which was great fun. It’s hard to avoid Cole in musical theatre, even if you don’t like him, and I love him. The Gershwins too, they’re astounding.’
Many of the jazz artists who starred at Cafe Society were known for approaching the song standards in their own unique way – none more so than Billie Holiday. ‘Billie was ground-breaking, the way she individualised those songs, that emotional pull she had. The great artists have that, I think, the emotional break in the voice. She wasn’t just a singer, she spoke from the heart, and from her sense of social justice.’
The fact that it took until 1938 for New York to have an unsegregated jazz club surprised Gareth: ‘I had absolutely no idea about Cafe Society – I was amazed that I’d never heard this story. It was an extraordinary place and it’s not surprising the House Un-American Activities Committee took an interest in it. The persecution of Barney Josephson and Cafe Society was a precursor to McCarthyism, which of course later hit Hollywood and TV.’
By 1949 Josephson had been driven out of business by the Un-American Activities Committee and hostile press columnists, and Cafe Society – which Lena Horne called ‘the sweetest job I ever got in my life’ – was closed.
* * * * *
Cafe Society Swing, a true story.
Leicester Square Theatre June 17-21.
Written by Alex Webb, directed by Simon Green.
Featuring vocalists Vimala Rowe, Cherise Adams-Burnett and Ciyo Brown
The Cafe Society All Stars: Jason Yarde, Denys Baptiste, Freddie Gavita, Winston Rollins, Miles Danso, Shane Forbes and Winston Rollins.
Tickets £20 from 08448 733 433 or ONLINE