The Look of Love – Evocative/Provocative

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

08/12/2008 - 18/12/2008

Production Details

A glamorous and cosmopolitan night of song   

Jennifer Ward-Lealand returns to Downstage with her latest cabaret show The Look of Love – Evocative/Provocative.

Following the success of her Marlene Dietrich cabaret Falling In Love Again, Jennifer Ward-Lealand takes centre stage again with THE LOOK OF LOVE – EVOCATIVE/PROVOCATIVE – a new cabaret show celebrating love in all its guises.

Featuring songs by Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach, Jacques Brel, Kris Kristofferson, George Harrison and others, THE LOOK OF LOVE – EVOCATIVE/PROVOCATIVE reunites Jennifer with musical director and pianist Grant Winterburn, bassist Aaron Coddel and lighting designer Andrew Malmo for a sophisticated and glamorous night of song.

THE LOOK OF LOVE – EVOCATIVE/PROVOCATIVE was first performed on 18 February 2007 at Hamilton Gardens Summer Festival, to a sell-out audience and Downstage is proud to present a strictly limited Wellington season with
only 10 performances
from 8 to 18 December
at 8pm.
Ticket prices range from $25 to $49.
Special early bird and group discounts apply.
Tickets can be purchased online at,
by phone at (04) 801 6946
or in person at Downstage’s box office.

For more information on the show please visit
or the Downstage Theatre Blog at

The Look of Love – Evocative/Provocative
Starring: Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Musical Director, Piano: Grant Winterburn
Bass: Aaron Coddel
Lighting Design & Production Management: Andrew Malmo

" … her latest cabaret show … had a crowded house hanging on every song … Ward-Lealand can’t miss." – Denise Irvine, Waikato Times 

Bass: Aaron Coddel
Lighting Design & Production Management: Andrew Malmo

An ideal anecdote to the overwrought cacophony of Christmas

Review by Kate Blackhurst 15th Dec 2008

Jennifer Ward-Lealand is practically New Zealand singing royalty. From her stunning entrance in a sparkling black dress with plunging neckline, she rules the stage. She remarks that ‘At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet’ and she goes on to sing a selection of songs that tell stories. The songwriters include George Harrison, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Stephen Sondheim, John Lennon, Jacques Brel, and Burt Bacharach. She picks sultry numbers that suit her alto voice, which reverberates around the auditorium almost without her moving her lips.

Despite her opening gambit of ‘Don’t Talk, Just Sing’ she introduces each song by talking over the intro with a slickness that would make a radio dj proud, telling us who it is by and a bit of information about the song or the composer. The quotes are edifying albeit clearly rehearsed. My favourite is, ‘If God made anything better than woman, he kept it to himself’ (Kris Kristofferson).

Jennifer brings a new interpretation to familiar tunes – ‘What’ll I Do?’, ‘Something’, ‘Ode to Billy Joe’, ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, and, of course, ‘The Look of Love’ sound fresh and intriguing. This is largely due to her spectacular assurance, but also much credit goes to the musicians; Grant Winterburn on piano and Aaron Coddel on double bass. Winterburn plays ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ with so much emotion, I half expected him to fall off his stool. He doesn’t; he’s far too talented.

Whether stalking the stage (empty apart from the other musicians, a big twinkling heart and a vase full of red roses), dancing on the spot, clinging to the microphone, sitting on a stool or leaning against the piano Jennifer displays faultless technique. Her phrasing is exquisite as she rounds off every line and her diction is so clear you can hear every word. And what a voice! She has a gliding range and never strains to reach a note, moving smoothly from speech to song with remarkable fluidity.

Jennifer is a totally proficient singer, continuing through any slight mishap (a stepped on microphone lead; a forgotten lyric) like a consummate professional. She smoulders; she stalks; she prowls across the stage to introduce the members of the band; she exudes sexiness. She expresses herself through facial expressions rather than movement, talking to and teasing the audience, beckoning them with come hither eyes but holding them at arms length.

In fact, she is almost too perfect, and this would be my one complaint (apart from the interval music which is way too loud). It is hard to relate to a perfect person. She is sultry and sexy but not warm or emotional. The ‘Masochism Tango’ is amusing but cruel, displaying a controlled passion, both sensual and aloof; it could be her signature tune.

She interjects a touch of humour with numbers such as ‘I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning’, ‘The Boy From…’, and ‘I Only Want Some’ but even this is calculated and merely adds to her untouchable allure. My favourite has to be her interpretation of Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’. At one point she gazes out wistfully at the audience and there is a spark of connection, but there is no danger of her losing anything – she has us just where she wants us.

This is a sophisticated and romantic evening; my parents would love it. It is an ideal anecdote to the overwrought cacophony of Christmas and I would recommend it for lovers of music and lovers of love of any age. Usually reserved for the lobbies of upmarket hotels, there are few venues for this sort of thing, and it works wonderfully at Downstage. If this is the new direction for the embattled theatre, then it is a step in the right one.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Smooth as silk, full of emotion

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Dec 2008

There’s no need to travel to New York for an evening of smooth, sophisticated cabaret performed by a top-liner in her prime. It’s all right here in Wellington even though we may not be sipping cocktails at tables looking out on to the Manhattan skyline. By the end of The Look of Love one felt, in words from Peel Me a Grape, a Diana Krall song she sings, that we had been thoroughly ‘champagned.’

Jennifer Ward-Lealand is back after her success with her Marlene Dietrich show. The Look of Love is a selection of love songs ranging from Broadway standards to Jacques Brel, Sammy Cahn, and Bobbie Gentry. The pain, the laughter, and the passion of love are presented in a simple and carefully structured performance that allows her to sing the songs with an intimacy and emotional force that are far more powerful than the belting power of any Broadway performance, though one is always aware that she could belt them out with the best of them if she wanted to.

In the dramatic Losing My Mind, she brings all her skills as an actress to bear on Sondheim’s song of a long-aching, unrequited love affair. Just by extending for a fraction of a second the first two vowels in ‘sleepless’ she subtly conveys more pain of sleepless nights than most who turn the torch song into a long howl of agony. She does the same for Could I Leave You? (also from Sondheim’s Follies)  in which an unhappy marriage is laid bare in silky tones rather than red hot anger which is the way it is often performed.

She does the same for the comic songs by underplaying them. Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave, Sondheim’s The Boy From, and Linda Eder’s I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning are slyly suggestive though her funny, sexy, encore of Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano is way over-the-top. However, she daringly underplays Tom Lehrer’s outrageous parody, The Masochism Tango so that the singer’s desire for her lover’s whips rather than his lips is almost disconcerting despite the comedy of her nose being caught in his left castanet.

From the start with Berlin’s plaintive What’ll I Do?, which segues into Rodgers and Hart’s Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, she holds the audience with an emotional openness that is present in every love song and she never falters into sentimentality. With her silky smooth voice and stunning presence, and the excellent support of Grant Winterburn on piano and Aaron Coddel on bass, she provides us with an evening that is all class.


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‘Class act’ show of musical excellence could be more dramatically structured

Review by Vicki Thorpe 09th Dec 2008

There’s nothing like hearing great songs, well sung. The Look of Love – Evocative/Provocative is a miscellany of songs "celebrating love in all its guises":  profound, foolish, passionate, sexy and (occasionally) even a little twisted. 

Jennifer Ward-Lealand is on stage once more with pianist / musical director Grant Winterburn and bassist Aaron Coddel. She’s a class act, looking and sounding gorgeous, never descending to the burlesque, charmingly lit by Andrew Malmo amid a simple, chocolate-box set featuring a heart and long-stemmed red roses.

Opening with the hilarious Don’t Talk, Just Sing she sets the scene with some witty interactions with Winterburn, weaving in some of her own stories. Peel Me Grape and I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning are similarly entertaining, sung with style and great comedic timing.

However it isn’t until Jennifer Ward-Lealand draws us in with  expressive and beautifully phrased performances of Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do? and  Rogers and Hart’s Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered that the tone becomes more intimate and she allows the music, rather than the lyrics, to speak for itself.

The works of Stephen Sondheim are clearly Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s metier. Her flexible, well-supported voice with its wide range of vocal tone and colour, meticulous phrasing and her marvellous facility with words make her so well suited to perform his songs. I’d love to see her perform a whole programme of Sondheim. Losing My Mind is moving and memorable, while The Boy From…. rounds off the first half of the programme with panache.

There are some less familiar songs too, such as Billy Strayhorn’s enigmatic Lush Life. Later in the programme Here’s to Life places love in perspective, while Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s performance of Tom Lehrer’s kinky Masochism Tango gives us quite another perspective on love altogether.

Grant Winterburn and Aaron Coddel are more than just accompaniment. They underpin and punctuate the songs, both supporting and commenting. Nowhere is this more evident than during Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s performance of the Bobby Gentry classic, Ode to Billy Joe. This was the high point of the show for me. The arrangement departs somewhat from the cabaret/jazz idiom into more of a folk-blues groove to tell us a sad tale. The understated emotion and narrative power of the song are poignantly and beautifully expressed, underpinned by Winterborn and Coddel’s responsive and sensitive musical subtext.

The simplicity of John Lennon’s Love follows but introducing parental love into an otherwise romantically-themed show is confusing. There are some other uncomfortable juxtapositions too, Jacques Brel’s searing Ne me quitte pas followed by Sondheim’s cynical and sardonic Could I leave you being a case in point.

Performing cabaret-style to an audience sitting in straight rows in a theatre, rather than at tables, is problematic and as a result The Look of Love falls between two stools, neither truly cabaret, nor dramatic performance. Compared to Falling in Love Again – Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s tribute to Marlene Dietrich and her previous collaboration with Winterburn, Coddel and Malmo – The Look of Love lacks the same momentum and cohesion. While the songs have clearly been tastefully arranged in terms of pace and style, the show as a whole needs more dramatic focus. More structure might ensure that some of the more profound and moving songs sit more comfortably amid the humorous and cynical.

Nevertheless, Jennifer Ward-Lealand is undoubtedly a very fine performer who has chosen an interesting collection of great songs.


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