Janie Dee and her Gentlemen continues at The Pheasantry, London until 14 September.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It’s not every night Stevie Wonder, Spike Milligan, Alan Ayckbourn, Kander and Ebb, Sondheim, Gershwin, Bacharach, Lerner and The Cure appear on the same bill but that’s what we got -– and more – in Janie Dee’s dee-lightful, dee-versified cabaret.
Returning to The Pheasantry only days after playing Cleopatra in a musical extravaganza about Shakespeare’s lovers at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles (to be reprised at the Barbican on 4 October), this remarkably versatile actress-singer proves once again she is a national treasure.
There’s a play in New York coming up, even panto in Guildford for a lady who finds it hard to say ‘No’ to good work and whose philosophy is neatly summed up in the old Minnelli favourite ‘Yes’ in a brilliantly thought-out programme that entranced an opening night full house.
You know the one: “When opportunity comes your way, You can’t start wonderin’ what to say, You’ll never win if you never play, Say Yes!” Dee is playing all right, pretty well everywhere.
Here she has the audience eating out of her hand, slinkily moving among them, stealing a gulp of bubbly here, kissing cheeks there, asking names, greeting old friends, telling naughty tales, all the while singing beautifully in that crystal-clear, vibrant voice that never seems to change with the passing years.
For any young cabaret artist, Dee is an inspiration on how to work a room with her amazing ability to make you feel the most important person there, in turn warm, flirtatious, funny and, yes, downright sexy in a posh, upper-class way.
And she can turn from frothy to sad when the occasion demands, close to tears as she sang ‘Send in the Clowns’, in memory of perhaps the greatest fan she ever had, Michael Lewington, who died only a couple of weeks ago.
From Kander and Ebb’s ‘There Goes the Ballgame’, ‘Yes’ and ‘One of the Boys’ – a quick change costume here while ArtsEd grads Luke Byrne and Jordan Harrington take centrestage – to the whimsy of Spike Milligan’s ‘Can You Hear Me, God?’ and wistfulness of ‘Jardin d’hiver’ in pretty decent French, there is something for everyone.
Ayckbourn’s ‘Copy Type’, about an inept BBC typist vainly trying in to get to grips with a QWERTY keyboard, is always good for a laugh, while for ballad lovers there are sublime versions of ‘On a Clear Day’, ‘Alfie’ and ‘Our Love is Here to Stay’.
She spotlights three more of her ‘Gentlemen’, her backing group of Steve Clark (piano), Eric Guy (bass) and Mike Osborne (drums), in a rousing arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and the standard of musicianship throughout the show totally complements the star.
Dee’s guitar-playing daughter Matilda weighs in with an easy-to-listen-to cover of The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’ in an hour and a quarter that is over far too soon. When Dee weaves her magic, she is a hard lady to resist.