Divas in London: Dear World and Liza Minnelli

Two American musical divas are in town. 

Last night, the legend that is Liza Minnelli proved that despite the rumours, the ridiculous fourth marriage, and the plastic surgery, she still has that star pizazz to wow a crowd, and a packed Royal Festival Hall buoyed up by a large contigent of Liza’s gay fanbase certainly appreciated her 90 minute set.  Her big showstoppers from Cabaret and New York, New York of course made their appearances, and if Liza’s voice has faltered just a little over the years and her health has declined, she makes up for any shortcomings with sheer personality. 

Backed by a band she has obviously collaborated with for years, she gave us a varied set which included as highlights a cut song for the landlady in Cabaret – ‘So What’, Charles Aznavour’s superb story of a lonely gay female impersonator (‘What Makes a Man a Man’), ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ (a duet with her pianist), the touching ‘You’ve Let Yourself Go’, and her final unaccompanied ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’.  The lady may be breathless, scatty and more than a little bit manufactured, but Judy Garland’s daughter still puts on a magnificent performance, especially in her fast paced whiz song ‘Liza With a Z’, and she seems to have genuine affection for her fans, as they have for her.  It’s been a long time since I was in a crowd chanting the name of their idol as they wait for an encore!

The previous week I was at the Charing Cross Theatre to see Betty Buckley as the mad countess in Jerry Herman’s ‘Dear World’.  Buckley had been indisposed with a virus but was in fine voice at the performance I saw, especially in the lovely ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ and a song reminiscent of Mame’s Open a New Window, ‘Some People’.  Paul Nicholas was the other star name in the cast, and although he still has a certain charm, the songs he has in this show are not a patch on those given to the lead.  As the eccentric ladies who conspire against the wickedness of the ‘presidents’ and the oil seeker, Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock are funny and grotesque, while the greed of moneyseekers is beautifully played by Peter Land, Jack Rebaldi and Robert Meadmore (who I recall seeing back in the 1980s as Freddie in ‘My Fair Lady’).

‘Dear World’ is a musical adaptation of the Jean Giraudoux play ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’, which was itself filmed by Bryan Forbes with Katharine Hepburn in the lead.  Betty Buckley’s countess is a dewy eyed optimist with nerves of steel and a conscience, and if the character isn’t quite Mame Dennis, well there is still much to enjoy and appreciate for the rest of the musical’s residency in the capital.