Janie Dee and Jason Carr performed their shows at The Pheasantry, London.
It was little wonder that the divine Janie Dee chose the old Liza Minnelli number ‘Yes’ for her late-show cabaret at The Pheasantry as the Kander & Ebb classic encapsulates exactly the sort of trip this extraordinary actress-singer is on right now.
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, and pretty well everywhere.
She sailed into her Chelsea gig straight from her star turn in the sold-out Sondheim revue at the St James Theatre just a short cab ride away in Victoria, made a quick change into a stunning little black satin number, and kicked off with ‘Misty’ shortly after 10pm, less than three-quarters of an hour after polishing off Putting It Together which – and you read it here first – may soon transfer to bigger West End premises.
That’s only the half of it, because during the day Dee is rehearsing Blithe Spirit with the legendary Angela Lansbury for an 18 March opening at the Gielgud. “As long as the work’s good, I do find it hard to say ‘No’,” she freely admits, but any notion that the Pheasantry audience was not going to get the best of her after such a gruelling week was quickly dispelled.
She has this amazing ability to make you feel like the most important person in the room as she brings everyone into her show, in turn warm, skittish, flirtatious, funny, seductive and, yes, downright sexy, slithering between diners, stealing a slug of someone’s champagne, singing an impromptu Happy Birthday, recognising old friends and entrancing others with practised ease.
Beautifully accompanied by Ben Atkinson, she creates versions of Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’, another Kander & Ebb song ‘A Quiet Thing’ (from Flora, the Red Menace) and Noel Coward’s ‘Someday I’ll Find You’ (from Private Lives, in which she starred with her husband Rupert Wickham in 2011) that would be impossible to improve upon.
Throwing humour into the mix with ‘Copy Type’, Alan Ayckbourn’s take on an office typist’s travails, and a fine parody by Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel called ‘It Isn’t Casablanca’, she signs off with ‘Over The Rainbow’, yet even at such a late hour and with another exhausting day coming up, she still finds the energy to stay on to talk to her enchanted audience, every one of whom has fallen in love with her, even if they were not in love before.
What a star – and what a shame The Pheasantry was no more than half-full for something beyond special.
While Dee was ‘putting it together’ down the road, composer, lyricist and award-winning orchestrator Jason Carr’s first solo show Do As You Like acts as a tasty hors d’oeuvre in the first half of the evening.
Maria Friedman’s long-time accompanist, Carr was at The Pheasantry in that role only a few weeks earlier (and will be again in October), but he is a versatile talent in his own right, having recently re-scored Leonard Bernstein’s Candide for the Menier and adapted The Water Babies, Six Pictures of Lee Miller and The Snow Queen for Chichester. Carr has also composed incidental music for more than 40 plays at the National Theatre, RSC, in the West End and on Broadway.
Anna Francolini and Melvin Whitfield, two of his Chichester cast for Lee Miller, perform a selection of Carr’s best material, some of which has a Sondheim feel to it, and when Carr himself plays and sings ‘Love to Remember’, about the First World War, there are distinct echoes of Coward and Novello.
Carr starts and finishes with some personal and little-known favourites from the Great American Songbook, not least two from Esther Williams movies and ‘There’s Beauty Everywhere’, an Arthur Freed/Harry Warren ditty popularised by Kathryn Grayson in the 1940s.
A fascinating double-header and part of The Pheasantry’s tribute season to its still-missed cabaret predecessor, Pizza On the Park.
Check out our interview with JANIE DEE in Issue 5 of Musical Theatre Review
Readers may also be interested in:
Putting It Together – St James Theatre – Review
Maria Friedman and Jason Carr – The Pheasantry – Review