Divalicious!, performed by Ann Hampton Callaway and Amanda McBroom with Michele Brourman, continues at The Pheasantry, London until 13 November.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
After the blackest day in American history if you were a Democrat or ardent feminist (or plenty of other things too), two of cabaret’s all-time-greats, Ann Hampton Callaway and Amanda McBroom, were not the happiest of bunnies for their first show together at The Pheasantry.
But you would never have guessed that these two sublime singer-songwriters had struggled to get any sleep since hitting Heathrow.
Callaway opens the evening with a witty “meet the three new residents of the UK” and from there until 20 gorgeous songs later in a 130-minute exhibition of exactly how cabaret should be done, we are in for a total treat.
The third, of course, is pianist extraordinaire Michele Brourman, once a member of Bob Dylan’s touring band, and here not only a huge asset to her old-friend buddies but also a significant singer-songwriter in her own right who deserves to be better known than she is.
The mixture is well-nigh perfect: a handful of Dorothy Fields classics including the wonderful ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, splashes of Rodgers and Hart, Hammerstein and Kern, the Gershwins and a soupçon of Cole Porter (‘Just One of Those Things’) for Great American Songbook lovers.
But plenty of what most of us had come for too: the Ann-dards and the Aman-dards. Songs they wrote themselves and which continue to stand the test of time.
Now one of the world’s great jazz singers, it was Callaway’s early love songs we fell for in the old Pizza On the Park days.
From those she gave us what she had written for Streisand – ‘At the Same Time’ (first recorded in 1997 and now on five Barbra albums), plus the divine ‘I’ve Dreamed of You’. There is also one tasty new ballad, ‘Almost’, compiled with McBroom when visiting her in LA.
Their duetting finale on ‘The Rose’, the Bette Midler No. 1 hit song for which McBroom is best known, gets the inevitable standing ovation.
Callaway’s voice and range still have to be heard to be believed. And McBroom, controlled, crystal-clear and understated, is as compelling as ever. Old favourites ‘Wheels’ and the Brel classic ‘Carousel’, an amazingly difficult song to perform, retain all their power.
Brourman’s writing skills are given full vent in five songs. One, ‘Love and Let Love’, she composed with Callaway, but her other work, including the lovely ballad ‘‘London in the Rain’, she penned in collaboration with her closest pal, McBroom.
Plenty of sharp American patter too – AHC does her old party trick of ‘inventing’ a song on the spot in response to audience suggested topics (no prizes for guessing ‘Trump’ and ‘orange blancmange’ were on the list, though ‘triceratops’ was less obvious!).
If only there had been time for more! This was former Crazy Coqs booker Ruth Leon bringing the finest American stars who so lit up that West End room to her new Chelsea domain.
Not only that, the personal touch and sense of style is already adding warmth. Whoever comes next, this is an incredibly hard act to follow.
Sometimes it’s difficult working out a star rating for a show, but here it’s a piece of cake: they are the best in the business and continue to be so. We are lucky to have them for five days – and there are still seats!
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – Ann Hampton Callaway and Amanda McBroom on being Divalicious at The Pheasantry