Kelli O’Hara (Cadogan Hall)

The latest in the season of Broadway performers brought over to showcase their takents at Cadogan Hall, Kelli O’Hara (last seen here in The King and I) proves to be adept at the Great American Songbook, opera and even a bit of country rock.

With a five piece band – four of which “I only met yesterday”, O’Hara presents a carefully chosen set of songs, beginning with I Have Dreamed (Tuptim and Lun Tha duet) and ending with Edith Piaf’s immortal La Vie en Rose.

She boasts an impressive vocal range and an emotional maturity which brings songs such as This Nearly Was Mine (Emile’s solo from South Pacific) and The Light in the Piazza (Clara’s song from the musical of the same name) into sharp focus, making them real and moving.

Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O’Hara

In contrast, OHara returned squarely to her Oklahoma roots in a riotous song about a country star who can’t make it in the opera, until her child decides to prematurely scramble into the world, that is, making his mother hit the high notes and utter “some cuss words”.

Elsewhere we had a couple of Sondheim songs: What More Do I Need (from Saturday Night) and Finishing The Hat (from Sunday in the Park with George). We heard of Nellie Forbush’s “wonderful guy” (South Pacific), and about Getting to Know You (The King and I).

To Build a Home, from The Bridges of Madison County, seemed to click and fly much more than it did with Jenna Russell’s exaggerated accent at the Menier earlier this year; I may need to give the musical another listen.

KelliO'Hara in The King and I
KelliO’Hara in The King and I

Equally charming was a “mashup” of the Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun and Charlie Chaplin’s sentimental composition Smile, which O’Hara dedicated to her son. Every mention of her husband Greg, himself a songwriter and musician, and their two children, felt joyous.

O’Hara is s fine singer who makes even the highest soprano notes feel effortless – in songs like Lerner and Loewe’s I Could Have Danced All Night (My Fair Lady) and He Loves Me (from She Loves Me) her sense of playful fun comes through, too.

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Caissie Levy (Cadogan Hall)

It’s been a decade since Caissie Levy made an impact in the stage revival of Hair, which came over to the West End from Broadway. She played Sheila, idealistic and dedicated to peace. Levy refers to shows as “magical” rather a lot during her concert.

This is a show heavy with songs from musicals: Rent, Hair, Ghost, Waitress, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables (not just Fantine’s signature song, but Bring Him Home too), and of course, Frozen (from which we are treated to not just Let it Go, but two new songs written for the stage version).

Caissie Levy

Away from shows there’s a couple of Carole King tracks, A Foggy Day (in London town), New York State of Mind, and The Nearness of You, showcasing Levy’s love of standards and smoky jazz.

For those who note such things, Levy starts the night in a leopard print dress slit to show a bit of leg, then returns in a short glittery number. She wears killer pencil heels throughout. She comes across as smart, funny, and warm, and is chatty between numbers, whether recounting tech disasters on Rent and Ghost, or discussing her three-year-old son’s birth playlist.

Caissie Levy as Elsa in Frozen
Caissie Levy as Elsa in Frozen

Ashley Day, a singer we haven’t seen perform in this country before, is Levy’s special guest: duetting on I Don’t Know How To Love Him and coming back alone for a powerhouse Iowa. I’d like to see and hear a lot more of this talented performer.

With Frozen due in town in about a year, I hope we get to see Caissie Levy transfer as Elsa. The new songs sound great, especially Monster, which gives the character more clarity. Levy’s band deserve a nod – notably musical director Matt Hinckley, who also adds vocal harmonies to a couple of tracks chosen from her debut album.

Liza Pulman Sings Streisand (Cadogan Hall)

With Barbra Streisand gracing these shores to headline at Hyde Park this summer, it seems timely that Liza Pulman’s show (not a life story, not an impersonation, but a celebration of some of the songs Streisand has recorded and performed) has been touring this year.

I did originally book for the West End run, but couldn’t go, so this opportunity to go for a more intimate venue at the lovely Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square was most welcome.

I know Pulman mainly as one third of the fabulous Fascinating Aida – if you’ve never seen them, do – but I didn’t realise her background was in opera, and until recently I didn’t know she was the daughter of actress Barbara Young (who has featured in many TV soaps, sitcoms and films).

Pulman clearly loves Streisand, and also those songwriters whose work she has interpreted (Charles Trenet, Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Randy Newman, Harold Arlen, Fats Waller).

Choosing a set which does not just have the big guns (People, The Way We Were, Evergreen, Don’t Rain on My Parade) but also less-heard numbers like I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, I Wish You Love, A Sleepin’ Bee, and Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now, worked well and showcased Pulman’s own unique vocal chops.

Liza Pulman
Liza Pulman

There was humour, too, in Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf and Sam, You Made The Pants Too Long, while anecdotes about Garland, Yentl (for which Pulman’s mother auditioned), and Fanny Brice led into other songs, notably Second Hand Rose.

Pulman is not averse to poking fun at herself either (“a menopausal woman close to 50”; “a camp Anthea Turner”), and despite my love of the opera, I’m rather glad she came out of that music shop with Streisand in her hand rather than Schubert.

This is a fine evening which celebrates the talents of both Streisand (“52 years at the top”) and Pulman herself, who is supported by a lively six-man band, the Stardust Ensemble, led by Joseph Atkins.

Liza Pulman returns with her Sings Streisand show at St Jude’s Church, Hampstead, on 29 June.

Chita Rivera (Cadogan Hall)

Part of the Cadogan Hall Broadway series, we were treated yesterday to a visit to London by an icon of musical royalty, Chita Rivera.

Now 86 years old, she created the roles of Anita in West Side Story and Velma Kelly in Chicago, toured in Sweet Charity, and appeared in London in Bye Bye Birdie and Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

Old enough to have known the likes of Bernstein, Fosse and Kander & Ebb, she performed a diverse set of numbers punctuated by stories of her road to success.

Her voice isn’t what it was – although in A Boy Like That, All That Jazz, Jacques Brel’s Carousel and a number from Kander & Ebb’s final show The Visit it comes to life with hints of the vibrancy she must have shown fifty or sixty years ago.

Head to toe in red from her earrings to high-heeled shoes, ‘Chi’ is still every inch a star, with knowing asides and dance moves.

Her set is full of lesser-known numbers from the likes of The Rink, Sweet Charity, Seventh Heaven (in which Chita sings not just the part of Fifi but also Camille and Cosette!), and Bye Bye Birdie (assisted by Tim Flavin on one song, Rosie).

Enjoyable, if only to see an original star in action – there are fewer of them by the year, but this one shows no signs of slipping into retirement just yet.

Photo credits – Laura Marie Duncan.

3 Winters (National Theatre), John Cleese – So Anyway (Cadogan Hall)

Last weekend was a double theatre visit, first to the new Croatian-set play ‘3 Winters’, which I admit I left at the interval, so perhaps cannot give a balanced review.  Suffice to say I thought the sets were excellent, moving between the three eras (1945, 1990, 2011) in the same house, although I would personally have dated the video projections.  The characterizations were spread too thinly for us to really care about them, although the actors did their best.  Just not my thing.

John Cleese has had a busy couple of years with his Alimony Tour, the Python reunion at the O2, and now the tour in support of his autobiography (up to 1969) called ‘So Anyway’.  The small and intimate Cadogan Hall was the perfect venue for his conversation with David Walliams, in which he came across as funny, personable, and surprisingly not as arrogant as he has sometimes come across in interviews.  OK, we have heard some of the anecdotes before (Graham Chapman going to a debate at the Oxford Union dressed as a carrot), but they remain amusing enough.  I now look forward to reading the book, which we got as part of the ticket price.  One side note on the Cadogan Hall show, in Cleese’s book he notes his good friend the actor Nicky Henson has a funny laugh which he likes to provoke, and as Mr Henson was in the row in front of us I can confirm that yes, he does indeed have a distinct barking cackle which appeared throughout the show.