Friday, April 24, 2009

My, What Big Eyes You Have

The costume design, when I started, reflected the character in the comics at the time. Spider-Man’s original artist, Steve Ditko, drew the super-powered homo-arachnid’s adventures from the character’s ten-page origin, in Amazing Fantasy #15, through the initial thirty-eight issues of his eponymous comic book. Under his artistic guidance the costume’s webbing was tight and the eyes were big, bigger than the hoi polloi remember by the mid-eighties, with the black which surrounded the white far wider than any artist thereafter. He would adjust the eyes accordingly to express emotion, even though it defied logic. On one occasion, to emphasize surprise, he literally drew wide eyes on the white areas of the mask. One might argue Ditko was abusing his creative license in this particular instance, but no one will debate that Ditko’s quirky style perfectly suited the character and greatly contributed to Spider-Man’s instant success, firmly establishing the hero’s iconic stature. Ditko’s design also included webbing underneath the arms that extended to the waist, like the membrane of a bat’s wings. It was sometimes colored a purple-gray, other times it was translucent, sometimes it was omitted altogether.

Ditko’s successor John Romita streamlined the eyes, creating a more mysterious look to the character, and loosened the suit’s webbing, if for no other reason than it was easier and quicker to pencil, an important factor to consider when one has to complete twenty plus pages of art in two weeks to keep the deadlines of a monthly comic book. Romita retained the diaphanous under-the-arm webbing, but as he continued to pencil Spidey’s adventures, this web membrane appeared less and less until it disappeared entirely. Most people, even avid fans, don’t remember its ever being a part of the suit.

It wasn’t long before Romita’s interpretation became standard. In fact, Romita himself—who served as Marvel’s in-house artistic director for many years after retiring from monthly penciling duties—designed the original costume that the personal appearance Spideys wore. It tickled me to think I was wearing a “Romita,” the way celebrities gush over donning a “Dior” or “Armani” on the red carpet.

Beginning with issue #298 in early 1988, in a controversial move by then Amazing Spider-Man Editor Jim Salicrup, a new young artist Todd McFarlane—previously creating a sensation with his penciling on the Incredible Hulk—was assigned to the title. Fans immediately took to McFarlane’s highly stylized, somewhat “cartoony” design of the Web-Swinger and McFarlane became an overnight sensation. His impact on Spider-Man was such that it broke into the mass media. The artist’s name was even used as an answer on an episode of Jeopardy.

Ironically, although viewed by some as a bastardization of the character and by all as a totally new look for the Web-Spinner, McFarlane’s Spidey owed much to Ditko albeit a highly exaggerated interpretation of the hero’s original artist. McFarlane’s webbing design was similarly tighter and busier, and he drew his eyes bigger, à la Ditko. He also made the Web-Head’s moves creepier by exaggerating them, making them more angular, as if performed by a contortionist, much the same way as Ditko. In fact, it was Ditko’s take on Spider-Man that inspired my performance of the hero.

McFarlane’s style was like Ditko on acid. Beyond revamping these aforementioned traditional elements of the suit, he also redesigned the character’s chest icon and the look of the webbing when it shot from Spider-Man’s Web-Shooters. The spider chest icon, for the entire life of the character to that point, was drawn less representational, more like a child’s conception of the arthropod. McFarlane’s was still economic, as symbols should be, but more realistic. McFarlane’s webbing—when shot—detailed the strands as they projected, presenting them as entwining to create a single super strong strand. It was impressive, but a headache for all those that followed to emulate.

McFarlane’s popularity made my appearances more difficult. I was frequently asked, “Why are your eyes so little?” Some of the more confrontational fans challenged with “You’re not Spider-Man. Your eyes are too small.” I’d remain unperturbed and counter with “You must be referring to that McFarlane guy’s wild interpretation of me in the comics,” but the “eye” attacks only increased while my patience decreased.

By 1993, McFarlane’s design for the Web-Slinger became the standard, and the Marvel Mucky-Mucks decided that the design of the costume should be updated to reflect the change. It only took them a half-decade, which is only a few months in corporate bigwig years.

For a department with little to zero budget, this was a big deal. Bigger still was the woman they hired to create the redesign. I did not know Betty Williams, nor had I ever heard of her, but she was a legend in New York theater circles. Her costume work on the Great White Way spanned more than four decades and included the costumes for the original productions of The Fantasticks, The Boys in the Band and Oh, Calcutta (Quite an accomplishment when one considers that the show featured extended scenes of total nudity). She also worked extensively with New York City Opera, Alvin Ailey Dance Company and New York Shakespeare Festival.

I knew none of this when I entered her second floor studio on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan’s garment district to test the new suit. The space was vast; it appeared to be a single room—nearly the entire floor—flanked on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows. Yet, it was still dark. What little light there was came from the occasional fluorescent light fixture and a smattering of desk lamps at the sewing-machine stations. I half-expected to hear the buzzing of a bulb. Swatches of fabric were strewn around the room; on desks, tables, hanging off of lamps, window sills and across the floor. It looked like a legion of harlequins and tatterdemalions did battle with neither side proving the victor. Leaning against the one windowless wall stood bolts of fabric of every shade and pattern. In the intermittent areas between the windows and directly along the left wall of the entrance were corkboards covered with sketches of the latest projects Williams and her team were working on. Turn-of-the-century French gowns rubbed against 20s flapper dresses which fought for cork with Victorian gentlemen. But one design instantly caught my attention: Howard Stern as his ignoble gaseous guardian of good, Fartman!

It was love at first sight. The place screamed creativity, and I figured anyone who ran this Disneyland of design must be a lovably eccentric creative genius. How could she not be? She created the Fartman costume!

I was not disappointed.

Betty Williams was a diminutive elderly woman who looked like a cross between Woody Allen and Bea Arthur, or Edna Mode—the superhero seamstress from The Incredibles—only with gray hair and wrinkles. Her hair looked like she went to the same hair stylist as Moe Howard of the Three Stooges. An off-white work apron—that looked as if she hadn’t taken it off in half a century—covered a short black dress. Around her neck hung a golden-yellow tape measure; behind her ear was a red wax pencil. She had crows’ feet around her lips often indicative of people who smoked three packs a day since grade school, though she didn’t reek of smoke. She had sharp steely eyes that said, “I’ve been around some, so don’t f*** with me!” a look that only one who’s dealt with hundreds—perhaps thousands—of actors during numerous costume fittings spanning more than sixty years can achieve. When it comes to fittings, actors are like children getting cleaned and dressed for church: they whine, fidget, bitch, moan, and ask, “Are we done, yet?” every five minutes. It’s a scenario perfectly exemplified in Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, which, despite its antiquity, has not changed one iota since Gilbert and Sullivan were Sultans of the Savoy in London, circa 1900.

This was not to suggest Williams was a witch. Hardly. Though her mien was stoic. There was a sparkle behind her eyes and an affection in her demeanor that could only come from someone who still loved what they did. She just didn’t suffer fools, or actors, lightly. The stage may be their milieu, but here, in her workshop, she was Queen, i.e. Leave your ego at the door and let me do my job.

She handed me the newly-designed threads, or webs, as the case may be, and waited. There was no need for her to say “Drop your drawers. I haven’t got all day!” She respected that I was a professional and expected my feelings toward her to be mutual. There is no room for humility on the part of the actor during fittings, just as there isn’t any tolerance for salaciousness by the costumer. I had no problem stripping in front of Williams. I’d done my fair share of baring myself, not only in fittings before countless other Betty Williams’s of school and summer theater productions, but also offstage in front of cast and crew members. Williams was as interested in seeing my naked body as a sister or brother espying his or her nude sibling is. Contrarily, my boss, when she realized that I wasn’t going to retreat to the bathroom to try on the new suit, blurted, “You’re going to change here?!!” Williams and I exchange a look, then both turned to my boss, who got the hint and walked to another part of the shop.

As I disrobed, I could see that the occipital area of the new threads were indeed larger, but not as crazily so as McFarlane’s delineation. I also noticed that the blue was not as deep—more toddler blue with less black in the mix—and the red was less crimson, more pink. This change may have been Marvel’s attempt at making the costume less scary to little ones or maybe Williams’s fabric supplier couldn’t match the original colors scheme. The weblines were only minimally tightened, and the spider symbol on the chest was altered to reflect McFarlane’s new design.

Minutes later, I was in the suit. I was at once struck by the increased thickness of the fabric, which felt less giving, more resistant to movement. There was additional foot padding as well, which was not necessarily a good thing. I understood Marvel’s wanting to extend the wear on the costume’s most vulnerable area. And there may have been some consideration toward the comfort of the actor. But by increasing the padding, the tactility of the feet was decreased. When wearing a proper shoe, there is little fear of stepping on an irregular surface; the protective sole helps keep the foot in place, thus preventing an ankle rollover or even a simple moment of awkwardness. The thicker padding caused the foot to “float,” making the wearer’s footfalls less stable. When one is leaping upon tabletops or simply bounding over open terrain, the feel of one’s toes and sole is very important, especially with the suit’s limited sight. I would rather have had no padding whatsoever.

Once I had zipped up, I leaned into Williams’s face and asked, “Are my eyes straight?” I was less concerned with the symmetry of the mask than trying to get a reaction out of the unflappable Williams. No such luck.

“Fine,” she replied without flinching. “How does it feel?”

I leapt onto the work table, landing into a deep crouch with my elbows resting before me and my right arm up, hand out, striking the “Well” pose that was Jack Benny’s signature. “Seems comfortable enough,” I quipped.

For a fleeting moment, the corners of Williams mouth curled up and her mien softened. “Behave yourself,” she playfully scolded.

Though the enlarged eye area extended my peripherals, it seemed my vision was worse, as if the holes of the mesh screening that covered the eyes were smaller. I voiced my concerns to my boss, but she assured me that the fabric was unchanged. Truth be told, I’m not even sure she heard me, she was so immersed in gushing over her handiwork. I almost expected her to start exhorting, “It’s alive! Alive!!!” like Dr. Frankenstein when he noticed the slight movement of the monster’s fingers in Frankenstein. I chalked up the decreased vision of the amended suit to the gloomy conditions of the workshop. I was also told before test-piloting the new costume that the changes were essentially cosmetic, that it was just the design that was changed, not the textiles, so I let the issue drop.

It was only later when the new suit was coming off the production line and after several of the other Spider-Man actors complained that my boss admitted they had switched the fabric of the eye meshing. By then it was too late to affect the latest crop of costumes, but we were assured future orders would be constructed using the original material.

As for the public’s reaction, no one made note of the change, but the complaints of my eyes being too small were thankfully put to a halt.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Houston, We Have a Problem

The Spider-Man suit was brilliantly crafted—comfortable, functional and visually stunning. It worked on anyone from 5'9" to 6'3". It’s ease of transport made it possible to fit in any over-the-shoulder bag as small as a Ziploc. I never had to waste time at the baggage carousel, or worry that the suit might get lost in transit.

It was resilient, too. Most holes occurred along the seams and it was not rare to see me repairing the costume on flights to appearances. I still have more than a few mending kits from hotel rooms across the country. I only encountered one irreparable rip during my Spider-Man tenure, but it was a doozy.

I was flown to Houston for a week of appearances. The day I landed I was quickly hustled to a street fair downtown, changing in the car of my host along the way. It was a Sunday, and that, coupled with the street fair—which was a huge annual event for the city—ensured that businesses were closed and the blocks surrounding the area of the fair were deserted. It was eerie and more than a little I Am Legend. But after parking, I only had to bound a few blocks before I was met with what seemed like the entire population of Houston gathered in the city’s central park for the event.

I immediately looked for prospective perching spots. My host did not have a booth of any sort, so she just picked a street corner that wouldn’t interfere with any other booths. The only thing in the vicinity was a newspaper-vending machine...a wobbly newspaper-vending machine. I checked it before my ascent and though it shook, it wasn’t in danger of collapsing or falling over, so up I went. The host offered free photos and the box proved a perfect height for fans to stand before for pictures.

Normally, I could stay in a crouched position for upwards of an hour, signing autographs and posing for photos the whole while. When my knees couldn’t take it any longer, I’d leap off. I must have overstayed my usual time limit on the box, as I felt my ankles and feet go numb or rather didn’t feel them at all. Okay, time to leap off. But given the unstable condition of the vending machine and the fact that I couldn’t feel my feet, I was concerned I might break or twist an ankle upon landing. Thus, I tried to “cheat” off the box, without broadcasting my predicament.

According to Shakespeare “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” You can add spiders to that list. A bit of the costume under my right butt cheek caught the corner of the vending machine and “R-I-I-I-P!!! The ass of the suit was torn wide open, exposing my cute candy-cane–striped bikini briefs. I guess it could have been worse. They could have had “wittle duckies” on them.

I stood stock-still for a moment, keeping my overexposed gluteus maximus against the front of the vending machine, like an inebriated worker on the copy machine at the annual holiday party. I can only imagine the Rorschach design my backside created on the vending machine’s display window, but I’d bet even money it didn’t look like a butterfly. My only hope was that none of my fans had noticed. Thankfully the form-fitting design of the costume kept the effects of the damage contained around my right “cheek,” so unless I left the protection of the vending machine, my little problem went unnoticed. This ignorance extended to my host, who continued to escort people forward to get their picture taken with Spidey without hesitation. I posed best I could, all the while trying to get my host’s attention. I finally had to interrupt her and ask her to come over to me. I whispered the situation into her ear. True to human nature, her immediate reaction was to look toward my butt. I stopped her.

“Trust me,” I said, “the cooler than usual wind against my ass cheek tells me it’s hanging out.”

My answer came in the form of a windbreaker one of my fans was wearing, which they graciously agreed to let me borrow. For the remainder of the day, I posed with the windbreaker tied around my waist. Most people didn’t notice or question its presence. My explanation to those who did was that I’d had a run-in with Electro on my way down from New York and he zapped a hole in the backside of my suit before I subdued him.

I couldn’t rightly take my savior’s jacket with me when I was done, so I hightailed it (pun intended) back to the car with my host playing interference behind me. Still, I was barraged by a bevy of colorful offers and marriage proposals along the way. Boy, was my face red, both inside and out!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Webheads II: The Screamer, The No-No and The Return Engagement

Continuing my award-winning series on the types of fans I encountered at my Spider-Man gigs, I showcase a trio diametrically opposed to the example of which I spoke in the previous installment (Still, available for your viewing pleasure at Check local listings.). None of the children pictured in this post represent the categories under discussion. They are here merely to help lighten the subject matter, add a splash or three of color and satisfy those blogophiles who do not like a lot of words. And no, I do not have photos of children that would correspond to those I am about to mention (Shame on any who want to see such!)

Unconsolable, The Screamer screams . . . always! From the moment they first lay eyes on Spidey, a banshee wail erupts from their tiny forms, and nothing short of leaving the store will assuage their hysterics. At least, I can only assume their screaming stops when they depart, as it's the only time one can’t hear them. I understood why there were children afraid of Spider-Man. I had a featureless face; my eyes were big iris-free blobs of white, rimmed with black that extended up at either outer corner like a feline's; I spoke without a mouth, my entire face shifting when doing so; and the inhuman body posture could be unnerving. Even kids who worshipped the Web-Slinger—showing up wearing their Spider-Man Underoos—would occasionally flip-out. For them, it was a case of emotional overload at finally meeting their idol. Heck, there were adults, man and woman alike, who would run screaming when they saw Spider-Man (I’d hate to think what would happen if I wasn’t wearing a mask—cue drum riff).

Still, it didn’t make me feel any less bad when children were scared and cried. But The Screamer tore out my heart. It’s like I’d killed their dog or stolen their favorite toy. I’d turn to them and say in my softest most unthreatening tone, “I’m sorry,” only to be greeted with an even more blood-curdling scream. I’d know better than to even look in their direction, let alone speak to them, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt so terrible that I had done this to them.

And distance had no effect, The Screamer could notice Spider-Man from the furthest point in the store and “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” I felt badly for the parent who held The Screamer, as well. They’d put a stranglehold on Mommy or Daddy, the likes of which would make a professional wrestler envious, and all the while screaming in their parents’ ears as they squirmed and tried to push mom or dad away from Spider-Man while in their arms.

A less dramatic off-shoot of The Screamer was The No-No. In lieu of screaming, these children uttered “no-no, no-no, no-no” in an incessant staccato as if approaching the door to the dentist’s office. They’d still wriggle furiously to get away while in their parent’s arms, much the same as The Screamer, only without the need for ear plugs. More often than not, The No-No would evolve into The Screamer. This would usually happen with a parent insensitive to his or her child’s wishes and went something like this:

The parent—with child in arms—espies the line or crowd from afar and approaches. Maybe the parent even knows of Spider-Man’s appearance and wants to surprise his or her little one.

“What’s going on over there, [insert child’s name]?” Sometimes asked innocently, sometimes uttered with premeditation.

“Look, [insert child’s name]. It’s Spider-Man.”

Despite all the great qualities of the Spidey suit—it’s nigh-perfect interpretation of the character; the ease of movement and relative comfort for the wearer; the vibrancy of its colors; the facility in its tranportation, cleaning and upkeep—it did present an odd downside: one-dimensionality, a tromp l’oeil effect that flattened the character, making him appear like a cardboard cutout, i.e. not real. From afar the affect is more pronounced. A child may not “see” me, even though directly looking at me, or sees Spider-Man, but thinks it is just a display.

Then, I move. My head turns toward the next child in line or a parent, as I deliver a quip or answer a question; it could be a movement as small as Spidey’s hand signing…

“no-no, no-no, no-no, no-no, no-no…” It begins…

In the case of a caring parent:

“Okay, Sweetie. It’s okay. He won’t hurt you. He’s a good guy.” As the child is swiftly redirected away from the signing area.

But I’m exemplifying a bad parent, so after the “no-no”s begin…

The parent continues toward Spider-Man, despite the child’s protestations, the volume and speed of delivering the “no-no”s inversely proportional to the distance from the Web-Swinger…

“C’mon, Honey. Don’t you want to get Spider-Man’s autograph?”

No, you insensitive jerk, they obviously don’t. That’s why they
re wriggling like a fresh-caught Marlin and shaking like a margherita machine, not to mention the continuous ‘No-no”s, which grow in intensity until…

“no-no, no-no, NO-NO, NO-NO-e-e-e-e-e-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E!!!!”

There is no sound on Earth quite so piercing as the scream of a small child. Fire engines get out of the way, when they hear its approach.

It is only at this point that the parent turns away…

“That’s okay…okay…we’re going…” with all the sincerity of an apologizing waiter who has to return to the kitchen with your steak that wasn’t cooked properly.

And worse is the toothy smile these shameful parents sport when they’ve achieved scream-age. They knew their kid was going to scream, the sadistic bastards. The whole grotesque scene was staged for their sick thrills.

Another off-shoot of The Screamer, The Return Engagement begins his or her Spider-Man experience as such but returns, either of their own volition, with the prompting of their folks or by coveting the prize they see their brother or sister holding. Suddenly gone is the terror they so recently experienced. They want a comic dammit and they’re not going to let their parents leave until they’ve gotten one. They scarcely hear their parents chiding as they turn back toward the signing area. Rather than commend the kid for overcoming their fears in order to give a difficult task another go, parents would get pissy toward their child when he or she wanted to try and see Spidey again after an initial first attempt.

“If you cry again, we’re not going back,” they’d admonish. Or worse, a threat: “If we wait in that line again, you’d better not behave the way you did last time.”

The kicker was the perturbed parent who, when their little one wanted to return to see Spider-Man, grabbed their arm and pulled them toward the exit with a “No, I am not going to stand in that line again. You had your chance!” Some added the infamous, “You’d better stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” Would any of these callous moms and dads react similarly if their kid reattempted to ride a bicycle without training wheels or swim in the deep end of the pool for the first time?

No-Nos never transcended to this category. Rather, the occasional Returner transmuted to a No-No when their fear of Spider-Man turned out to be too great to overcome after all.

“If we get back in line, you’re not going to scream, right?”

Hell, if my brother/sister can do it, I certainly can.

“We’re not coming back a second time . . .”

How hard could it be. Spider-Man is a good guy . . . right?

“Get ready . . . there he is . . .”

I’ll just walk up, take my comic and—“no. no, no, NO, NO, NOOOOOO!”

If I noticed a Return-Engagement, I’d excuse myself from the child I was attending to and make sure the Return-Engagement received a comic from me—either via a sibling, parent or adult nearby—before the Return-Engagement was hustled away by Mom or Dad.

There were those occasional stories, whereby a Return-Engagement faced me successfully with their second attempt. Time would stand still as they drew closer and closer to Spider-Man. An audible hush would still the crowd. Screamer’s were rarely forgotten and quickly gained a reputation that no change in their nom de guerre would extinguish.

The suspense rises and a silent gasp is felt as the child hesitates . . . before proceeding. Now the name. The child’s mouth opens... The tension is palpable. Will it be another scream?


And the child skips back to their parents.

“Another satisfied customer,” I’d playfully say, breaking up my onlookers and the mood.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Quiet Nights by Diana Krall

I picked up Diana Krall’s recently released CD, Quiet Nights, this weekend and have been playing it like a four-year-old with a Wiggles DVD, i.e. incessantly. I have always had a penchant for standards that goes back to when I was a child digging into my Mom’s 45s (small vinyls with a single song per side for the young’uns in the audience) and discovering the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. singing That Old Black Magic, a version that exemplifies Davis as not merely a great singer, but also one of the finest entertainers of any era.

The secret and challenge in performing standards is not to over-sing them; there is no need. Composers such as Johnny Mercer, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, et al were geniuses in their ability to weave deceptively simple, yet rich melodies that endure and continue to win over successive generations of fans, regardless of who is singing them. The better entertainers, such as Tony Bennet, Ella Fitzgerald and the aforementioned Davis, are adept at doing this while still making the songs their own.

One need only look at the success of Rod Stewart’s four consecutive top-selling collections of American standards as proof of the power of the genre. A lifetime of excesses have not been kind to the legendary rocker’s voice, which sounds like Brenda Vaccaro with a cold. But the moment music producers propped him in front of a mike with some tunes by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, Stewart’s stock soared once again. He offers little by way of interpretation, but is wise enough not to impose himself onto the tunes. He simply sings them; the songs do the rest.

Krall has been performing standards from a young age, but what raises her performances above others are her breathy, seductive voice, jazzy interpretations and deft piano playing, a winning combination she continues in Quiet Nights. There is a warm, cozy feel to the collection’s ten tunes (twelve in the expanded CD) that is as inviting as a home-cooked meal or enjoying the company of another on a cold winter’s night with a bottle of wine before a crackling fire. Krall doesn’t force the tunes; instead allowing the melodies to be the focus, while still making her mark with occasional piano flourishes, economic pauses and subtle tempo changes.

Compounding the challenge to covering standards is their ubiquity; most have been done to death, and thus more difficult to raise above the fray. Krall wisely chooses some lesser-performed tunes and adds a 60s cover to the regular edition (and a 70s cover to the expanded one) to help keep the collection fresh. Still, she covers at least two songs—Where or When and The Girl From Ipanema (“boy” understandably traded for “girl”)—that could certainly be perceived as overdone. She succeeds in the former with an uptempo version that presents the Lorenz Hart/Richard Rogers classic in a refreshing matter-of-fact way that makes the subject matter more poignant than the maudlin, slow-tempo versions that abound.

Her interpretation of the latter Carlos Antonio Jobim tune is brilliant. As she begins, her tone is that of an uninterested observer, describing the paradigm of manhood that all other women adore. But as she gets to the signature “Ah-h-h-h,” her own desire begins to betray her cool reserve. Her composure reverts at the start of verse two, but crumbles even more quickly as her description becomes more suggestive. By the bridge, her exposure is complete. Her voice acquires a dreamier tone which grows more hopeful as she sings through the phrasing, taking on a note of petulance as the boy continues toward the sea without a hint of regard for the desirous chanteuse. Still, when she “smiles,” her tone is most hopeful, as if the singer is performing this last ditch effort for attention just as she hits the word, only to descend into disappointment immediately thereafter. It is during the short piano solo where Krall’s strength and advantage over other “standard bearers” lie. She even interpolates a chord from a later song from the CD, So Nice, the similar theme of which is captured in the lyrics to the chord she homages (“Someone to hold me tight/that would be very nice”).

Another standout is I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face (again, a trade: his” for “her”). This Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe number from the popular musical, My Fair Lady is the one moment in the show that Henry Higgins lets down his aloof, professorial guard, displaying his true feelings for Eliza Doolittle. It is a song famously “spoken” by Rex Harrison in the original production. Sung from a female perspective with the lovely voicing of Krall, the tune tears at the heart. In the show, there is no doubt Higgins will eventually get the girl, but Krall sings as if her discovery has come too late; there is no additional scene to save the day, just the plaintive words of a woman who let love slip away. Gets me every time.

Quiet Nights isn’t going to convert someone to standards who doesn’t like them, the way the best Black Sabbath album isn’t going to change the minds of anyone who doesn’t like heavy metal. But if you are a fan of the genre, Krall’s latest is a treat.

Quiet Nights receives 4.5 out of 5 spiders.