Anna-Jane Casey: A Life in the Day at Live At Zedel, London.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
From Annie as a young child in Manchester to Annie Get Your Gun in two months’ time in Sheffield, with plenty of West End shows and national tours in between, the awesomely versatile and totally loveable Anna-Jane Casey has a fascinating showbiz tale to tell.
And in two glorious hours at a sell-out Live At Zedel, this terrific trouper had us laughing and crying as she premiered A Life in the Day, a warts-and-all trawl through the highs and lows of a career that has embraced so many parts of her profession.
‘A-J’ didn’t shy away from talking about the post-natal depression that turned her into such a “horrible” wife that “if I’d been my husband, I’d have divorced me”.
And she was brave enough to admit that, although musical theatre has played such a big part in her life: “I don’t really like musicals – when I get home, I put on Stevie Wonder or Prince, watch darts and Bake Off, real northern!”
We even got to sample her baking skills as 90 mini-muffins “made from my own apples” were handed round. Cue ‘I Can Cook Too’ from On the Town.
Not only can she cook, she can play the ukulele, and run marathons – she’s done London and New York, and more to come – as well as becoming one of our best-loved all-round performers, not just in musicals, concerts and revues (Jerry’s Girls was a triumph and here she saluted Herman again), but also in non-singing TV roles.
Not being a musicals fan was quite an admission from someone who made her West End debut as Rumpleteazer in Cats at 16 and met her husband when playing Anita in West Side Story – she married her Bernardo, Graham MacDuff.
No wonder WSS still ranks as her favourite musical and she celebrated her 18-year union with ‘One Hand, One Heart’, doing full justice to Sondheim’s sublime lyrics, as she did with a barely recognisable ‘Not While I’m Around’, stunningly rearranged by her musical director Paul Herbert, from Sweeney Todd.
And she’s been in more than most, as the first Dot in the 2005 Menier revival of Sunday in the Park With George to Mack and Mabel, Spamalot, Billy Elliot, Forbidden Broadway and several cracks at Chicago. That’s just a few.
What’s so admirable is that this warm, down-to-earth lass has reached this plateau of go-to performer on triple threat talent alone without being born into the business. Her parents were market traders.
She’s self-deprecatingly funny and there were bags of humour with Stiles and Drewe’s ‘Carrying a Torch’ and Sarah-Louise Young’s wicked ‘Please Don’t Hand Me Your Baby’ as stand-outs.
But when she wants to be serious, that big voice coming out of such a small frame can move an audience to tears.
You could hear a pin drop as she filled the room with the beauty of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face’, using the Ewan MacColl classic to illustrate the joy of welcoming a new-born child into the world. She has two daughters she’s crazy about and it was probably no more than coincidence that MacColl came from her home town of Salford.
Two Piafs, ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘If You Love Me’, followed a medley of Disney songs where she duetted with her John Wilson Orchestra co-star Matt Ford, and a rousing ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ brought a long, rich set to a dazzling close.
Oh yes, and not many entertainers bring an umbilical cord with them to show off! Not any old umbilical cord, but one that will end up being made into a brooch for one of her girls.
This was proper, pure cabaret at its finest, rich in storytelling as well as musical diversity. Such a pity it was just a one-off. This mighty atom of a star deserves a full residency – if only she can find the time for one. A joy from start to finish.
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – Anna-Jane Casey on Forbidden Broadway, Family Guy and Girl Power
Annie Get Your Gun at Sheffield Crucible – Anna-Jane Casey and Ben Lewis lead cast – News