Marti Webb performed at the Crazy Coqs, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Musical theatre star of a bygone era Marti Webb, a rare visitor to the cabaret circuit making her Crazy Coqs debut, turned back the clock the best part of half a century as she reprised the songs that informed her glittering West End career.
In sparkly black and with honey-blonde hair framing a face not so very different from the Evita I saw in 1980, it was hard to credit that next month this singer’s singer – one songwriters would go to for the purity of her tone and the simple, unflashy way she would allow the words to speak for themselves – turns 72.
It was nostalgia time as Webb gave us two numbers from Evita, including the inevitable ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ and four from Tell Me on a Sunday, the show that took her out of the shadow of Elaine Paige and turned her into a genuine star instead of the high-class understudy and go-to girl if you wanted a job done professionally.
Of course, she had done good work well before that, making her West End debut in Stop The World, I Want To Get Off before getting her big break opposite Tommy Steele in Half a Sixpence.
This cabaret gig gave her an opportunity to tell us what it was really like acting with such a perfectionist as Steele, reputedly not the easiest to work with, but the lady was not for turning on, or spilling the beans about, any of the famous names from her past.
She let her singing do the talking, although she did mention that when she went into co-star Wayne Sleep’s dressing room during the run of Song and Dance, she found Freddie Mercury on the floor. The mind boggles! It was her lead into that gorgeous Queen hit ‘Love of My Life’.
The first Eva Peron I ever saw, she covered for Paige when she was on holiday and did the matinees when she wasn’t, Webb also played Nancy in Oliver! both on tour and in the West End.
But it was Tell Me on a Sunday, a one-woman, hour-long creation from a prime-time Lloyd Webber and prime-time Don Black, at a time when great songs tumbled from their pens, that has to go down as the highpoint of the Webb career.
So much so that, 32 years on, she came back at the start of 2014 to perform it for a new generation at the St James and Duchess Theatres, and again this year in Henley.
Apart from the bitter sweet title song, there was also ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’ that took Webb to a top three chart hit. Naturally she performed both at Crazy Coqs and has Black ever written finer lyrics than he did for ‘Sunday’?
Who wouldn’t be proud of “Don’t write a letter when you want to leave… I’d like to choose how I hear the news… Take me to a park that’s covered with trees… Tell me on a Sunday please” about a girl about to be dumped.
There was a selection from Oliver! and ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ from The King and I – Webb played Anna in a 2003 UK touring production – but Webb didn’t just stick to her big numbers. She also gave us something from a rock opera album called Freudiana and the Tim Rice-Elton John musical Aida which did well in Broadway but has never been seen professionally in the UK.
There was ‘Always There’’, the theme song from the old TV soap Howard’s Way, a song from The Good Companions, one of her earliest shows, a fair bit of Gershwin and that lovely ‘Unexpected Song’, the Lloyd Webber-Black composition she recorded in 1981 as a duet with Justin Hayward which resurfaced, sung by Bernadette Peters, in the Broadway version of Song & Dance.
Altogether a heart-warming evening, particularly for those of us of similar vintage, and if the voice was occasionally a bit loud for such a small room and better in its softer tones, it remains as crystal clear and potent as ever it was.