Sally Kellerman performs A Little Jazz, A Little Blues, A Little Rock and Roll at the Crazy Coqs, London until 23 July.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
Although best known as a movie actress, Sally Kellerman was Oscar-nominated for playing ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan in the original Robert Altman film M*A*S*H – she has also enjoyed a 40 year cabaret career. Her current show celebrates that milestone.
Kellerman’s debut at Crazy Coqs was eagerly anticipated but on opening night the reality was a tad disappointing. Her stage presence is a bizarre mixture of emotional fragility and memory lapses. There is no prepared patter between numbers, only repetitive phrases and mood swings from nervous laughter to weeping. She had to be prompted on many occasions by the Rick Simpson, her accompanying pianist, as to the running order and the odd lyric stumble. This may all be down to jet-lag, as the veteran performer has only recently arrived in London. Hopefully subsequent performances will have these wrinkles ironed out.
But it is the music that counts and here Kellerman redeems herself. Her voice, like that of Marianne Faithfull’s ‘fags & booze’ tone on her album 20th Century Blues, has a gravelly edge that adds drama and a touch of danger in its delivery.
There is superb piano playing from Simpson as well as acting as a rock for Kellerman to cling to.
Her choice of material lives up to the show’s descriptive sub-title with the ballad ‘Crazy’ giving way to the lively ‘Rockin Pneumonia & the Boogie Boogie Blues’. Standout numbers include ‘Black Coffee’ the dramatic ‘Damn Your Eyes’ and the haunting ‘The Lies of Handsome Men’.
‘I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl’ is teasingly suggestive of a Harlem burlesque with its double entrendre while ‘Love Potion No 9’ is spooned out with a pleasing rawness.
Kellerman is more at home when the audience provides a stimulus. This happened twice when she responded to calls to speak about Marlon Brando and also the making of M*A*S*H. Her anecdotes then flowed and amused.
Despite my misgivings, her audience was with her throughout. Her fans, not only vocal in their appreciation, even applauded her when she had to blow her nose!
The set closes with ‘Here’s to Life’ – the number of the night.