Feminine Persuasion – Ann Hampton Callaway Celebrates Women Songwriters continues at Crazy Coqs, London until 24 April, as part of the London Festival of Cabaret.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There aren’t enough stars in the galaxy adequately to convey the extraordinary pleasure of spending 90 minutes in the company of this true genius of cabaret: Ann Hampton Callaway is a talent from another planet.
This is the lady who has everything: an unmatchable husky, dark-chocolate, multi-octave voice; a great throwaway, faux deprecating sense of humour; a remarkable gift for mimicry – just listen to her Fitzgeraldian scat on the Ella classic ‘How High the Moon’ – and a songwriter par excellence. Oh, and a pretty good pianist too.
She had a backing trio when premiering Feminine Persuasion at Manhattan’s 54 Below in November, but here it’s Callaway naked – “for the first time I am the bass, the drums and the piano, a bit like Indian fabric, the faults contribute to the character!” – just AHC and her piano, like it was a quarter of a century ago when she made an unforgettable Pizza On the Park debut.
It’s more jazz-inflected now, lush vocals that can thrillingly move up an octave in a heartbeat even more polished, and material, a tribute to the great female songsmiths who have inspired her, which has even more variety.
In a sublime hour and a half that showcases all shades and sides of her immense gifts, we go through the decades -– from Billie Holiday to Adele, Peggy Lee to Carole King, Dorothy Fields to Joni Mitchell, Carolyn Leigh to Sara Bareilles, Annie Ross to Fran Landesman.
There’s something for everybody from standards like ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ to Ann-dards such as the beautiful ‘I Gaze In Your Eyes’ – her music to a posthumously-discovered Cole Porter poem.
She movingly recalls an elderly ex-soldier coming up to her at the Pizza On the Park and telling her that he and Porter had been lovers and these were the gorgeous words Cole had written for him.
Callaway has written more than 250 songs, many of them magical, but has failed to sing any on recent visits. Here she makes partial amends with two, the recent ‘Love and Let Love’, written in tandem with upcoming Coqs visitor Michele Brourman, rounding off an evening of infinite variety.
It takes a brave performer to tackle pop icon Adele’s very personal first No. 1 UK single ‘Someone Like You’. Amazingly, Callaway manages to imbue the song, about dealing with heartbreak and the end of a love affair, with an even deeper pain than even the writer could.
Just as stunning is her soulfully mature ‘Both Sides Now’, the Mitchell classic now sounding a million miles away from the Judy Collins version that reached number eight in the US charts and was rarely off my turntable in 1968.
There was nothing better than the Sara Bareilles composition ‘Gravity’, a particularly topical choice as this Californian songwriter is flavour of the month on Broadway with her long-awaited first musical Waitress opening this weekend.
Callaway had the audience joining in Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (not forgetting to insert they have written a song together and that King even sang along in the making of one of AHC’s CDs).
Introducing the song, she said: “As a teenager I saw her album in a shop window, played it, wept, and announced to the world ‘This is what I want to do with the rest of my life’ ” How lucky for us!
Always politically and socially aware, Callaway alluded to recent Paris atrocities in dedicating New Yorker Melissa Manchester’s 1920s-reflective ‘When Paris Was a Woman’ to the bomb victims.
Hard to believe, but AHC just gets better and better by the year, and this standing-ovation evening, dedicated to the “trailblazers of culture breaking down the barriers of an all-male world”, is beyond wonderful… even to a mere fella.
* Feminine Persuasion launches the fourth London Festival of Cabaret which runs over the next two weeks at four venues, Crazy Coqs, The Pheasantry, St James Studio and Wilton’s Music Hall.
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