Jessie Buckley and Joe Thompson – Crazy Coqs

7133-jessie-buckleyJessie Buckley and Joe Thompson performed at the Crazy Coqs, London.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Cabaret evenings with the extraordinary Jessie Buckley need to be treasured because they come so rarely now that this fast-rising talent is in such demand as a serious actress.

It’s seven years since the voting public exasperated Andrew Lloyd Webber by not making the fresh-faced 18-year-old from Kerry the winner of his I’d Do Anything find-a-Nancy contest for his revival of Oliver! – the part went to Jodie Prenger – and these days singing is little more than a hobby to her.

After a brief fling at musical theatre – she did a much-praised Anne Egerman in A Little Night Music first at the Menier, then in the West End – Buckley headed off to RADA to learn how to act properly.

The results have been startling, quickly establishing herself in Shakespeare, first as Miranda in The Tempest at the Globe, then playing opposite Jude Law in Henry V. Currently and until mid-January she’s Perdita in The Winter’s Tale alongside Judi Dench at the Garrick.

Just as The Winter’s Tale finishes, Buckley hits your TV screens in the six-part War and Peace epic on BBC. A strong role opposite Tom Hardy in Taboo, a new TV drama in eight instalments, follows and she’ll be making her first movie in the summer.

Yes, it’s all happening for the now-25-year-old who got together with her old gang, jazz pianist Joe Thompson, bass player Rob Rickenberg and guitarist Chris Cobbson, for a one-off reunion, reprising songs I last heard her perform with such amazing maturity at the Pizza On the Park in 2010.

In the intervening years, the voice, a husky, throaty soprano that’s never afraid to take risks or stretch a note, has even improved along with her confidence and if anyone has ever done a better version of Don McLean’s 1971 chart-topper ‘Vincent’, I’d love to hear it.

For those few minutes alone, it was worth braving an unfriendly December night and long train journey, but there was much, much more to enjoy, not least some blissful jazz piano from the accomplished Thompson, at a Crazy Coqs packed to the rafters for her debut there.

If you closed your eyes, you could have been listening to Judy Garland at her peak when Buckley opened with ‘The Trolley Song’ (from Meet Me in St. Louis) and closed with the heart-breaking ‘The Man That Got Away’, from A Star is Born.

Her Porgy and Bess medley was blessed by a sublime ‘Summertime’, her ‘Blues in the Night’ with echoes of Ella was a joy, and her searingly bold interpretation of ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’ left Doris Day for dead. And Day did it brilliantly!

Even a fire alarm going off and forcing the lighting and sound system to go haywire failed to faze her. After an unscripted ten-minute hiatus while we waited to find out whether we needed to evacuate the place, it was astonishing how quickly she picked up where she left off.

We didn’t need a fire to feel a warm glow and although her original lyrics to ‘Cabaret’ weren’t quite Kander and Ebb class, they at least demonstrated what a great sense of humour this laughing girl has.

There have been many special evenings at this lovely Piccadilly nightspot. This was was right up there with the best of them. Another Doris Day classic, ‘It’s Magic’, sung softly and beautifully, said it all. It WAS magic.

One night was nowhere near enough, of course, but we must get in the queue. This bubbly charmer has the world at her feet. We can only hope musical theatre gets a decent share of her.

Jeremy Chapman

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