Christine Andreas performs her show Here’s to the Ladies at The Pheasantry, London until 17 June.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If the divine Christine Andreas felt the pressure of being called “one of the greatest singers in the world, what she can’t do with a song isn’t worth doing” in Ruth Leon’s introduction, it didn’t show in a sensational 90-minute set at The Pheasantry.
But where was the audience for the New York songstress’ return, after missing last year, to the Chelsea cabaret room? The place was less than half-full for the opening night of her three-day residency, with composer-husband Martin Silvestri brilliantly accompanying her on piano, and doing his best Maurice Chevalier impersonation in their droll duet from Gigi, ‘I Remember It Well’.
Performers of her calibre don’t pop into The Pheasantry every week, or even every 30 weeks, but those who were there in a tragic and difficult week for Londoners saw an artist very much still at the peak of her craft.
It is 41 years since she was Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, but you would never have guessed.
The beauty of her strong, romantic, throbbing soprano matched that of her face, her diction and use of hands and arms were exquisite, and she looked trimmer and more playfully kittenish than ever, especially when flirting with us atop the piano. Who says you can’t be sexy at 65?
Here’s to the Ladies – the CD of the same name was recorded with a 55-piece orchestra in London in 2002 – honoured those Broadway legends who had most influenced her career, from Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence and Angela Lansbury to Julie Andrews (from whom she took over in My Fair Lady), Barbara Cook, Streisand, Helen Morgan and Glynis Johns.
Merman, celebrated for “not being as pink as a nursery”, was the cue for ‘Moonshine Lullaby’ from Annie Get Your Gun, and she admitted before tackling ‘Send in the Clowns’ that Johns, who created the role of Desiree Armfeldt for A Little Night Music on Broadway, was the only artist out of all those named above that she had actually seen perform.
The second of eight children born to Italian-Irish parents, she introduced each of her ladies with her own starstruck anecdote about the records she discovered them on, saying of Streisand that she left such an indelible mark on her songs that it wasn’t the cleverest thing for anyone else to take them on.
Then immediately ignored her own advice by launching into ‘The Music That Makes Me Dance’ from Funny Girl. Talking of funny, she can do comedienne as well, not just with ‘I Remember It Well’ but also ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’, the Cole Porter classic first sung by Mary Martin in the 1938 musical Leave It To Me!
Andreas was bound to feature ‘Storybook’, the best-known number from The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Frank Wildhorn/Nan Knighton musical in which she starred on Broadway in 1997, and a personal favourite of mine, as was ‘Bill’, written by PG Wodehouse and Jerome Kern 100 years ago for Oh, Lady! Lady!! but not used at the time because it was regarded as too melancholy for the storyline.
Oscar Hammerstein revised Wodehouse’s lyrics for a nightclub scene in Show Boat ten years later and turned them into a show-stopping hit for real-life nightclub singer Helen Morgan.
It was such a shame that her only appearance in a West End musical at the Aldwych the previous year, in The Fields of Ambrosia, playing the wonderfully-named Gretchen Herzallerliebst, flopped and left such a sour taste, especially as Silvestri wrote the music (and there’s a man who knows what a good tune sounds like).
It lasted only 23 performances with the Telegraph critic heartlessly saying it “has a number of moments where it seems tone-deaf to its own ridiculousness”. But musicals flop all the time and they are both very much still here, with a wonderfully cosy rapport adding immeasurably to the intimacy of her elegant five-star set, and looking ahead to next month when their new Piaf show opens in New York.
To give us a taster, the glorious ‘Hymne a L’Amour’ (you may know it better as ‘If You Love Me, Really Love Me’) brought a tear to the eye, a magical ending to a magical evening of pure delight.