Adele Anderson – Gloomy Sunday at The Pheasantry, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Adele Anderson’s cabaret may have been called Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday’s 1941 hit version of what was originally known as the ‘Hungarian Suicide Song’ – and its subject matter, Disappointment, Depression and Death, downbeat but this is an evening full of laughter too.
And there is nothing gloomy about Anderson, the tall one in Fascinating Aida with the rich, full-bodied voice, who has good news to relate about her long dogfight with cancer and looks absolutely marvellous.
And while her treatments are still getting in the way of the famous trio organising tours together, they are all operating separately. Dillie Keane’s solo show at The Pheasantry last year was not only brilliant but intensely moving, and Liza Pulman is touring with her Songs of Hollywood.
It was great to see Keane herself, Anderson’s great friend and Aida partner of 32 years, at the first night of a three-evening Pheasantry residency, not just supporting but even going round selling Anderson CDs to an audience that should have been much larger.
Those who did attend saw an outstanding artist performing an eclectic mix of classics such as ‘Love For Sale’, ‘Ten Cents a Dance’ and ‘Is That All There Is?’ along with material she and/or Keane had put together, folk (‘Crazy Man Michael’, by two past members of Fairport Convention) and even some pop, the unforgettably crass Ricky Vallance hit ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’.
There is, too, a happy ‘marriage’ between Randy Newman’s ‘In Germany Before the War’ and Daniel Cainer’s ‘The Road to Marseilles’, the latter, she said, providing the ‘ending’ to Newman’s song that she always thought it needed.
But the undoubted star turns are the hilarious spoof ‘That Old Kurt Weill Song’, gutterally sung in cod-German and acted quite brilliantly, and ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’, the 1963 Leiber and Stoller hit which takes on a new, wicked personality under Anderson’s obsessive stalker spin.
As with all her songs, the linking material is detailed and hugely informative, delivered in a lugubrious deadpan style that massively increases the enjoyment of what follows.
Here she tells us that the ‘Kurt Weill’ composer, Ray Jessel, had acquired a degree of fame late in life by auditioning for America’s Got Talent at the age of 84, a year before his death.
What she doesn’t say is that ‘She’s Got More’, the comic song he wrote and performed, was about a guy getting a shock when he discovered the gal he was falling for was transgender who had more bits than he’d bargained for! Needless to say, this was the USA, so hundreds of people complained and old Ray’s race was run.
Anderson also relates that the words of ‘Gloomy Sunday’, which are alleged to have caused a hundred or more suicides, are banned by the BBC at the time as being detrimental to the war effort, a ban forgotten about for decades since it wasn’t rescinded until 2002!
These titbits, and many more, light up a long (almost two hours) show during which Anderson shows no sign of flagging, and is brilliantly accompanied by MD/pianist Dean Austin. She even bullies us all at the end to wave our arms and sing along to the sequel to ‘Tell Laura’, the less well-known ‘Tell Tommy I Love Him.’
A totally different evening to the cabaret norm, and one which shows many more sides to the deep-thinking, extremely literate Anderson than we are used to seeing with Fascinating Aida.