Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Class Act

Landor Theatre, London

*****

Book by Linda Kline and Lonny Price
Music and lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed by Robert McWhir



A Class Act at the Landor Theatre is a biography of the lyricist of A Chorus Line, Ed Kleban. Written by Linda Kline and Lonny Price, it charts the life of this talented creative who died tragically young in 1987 of smoking related cancer, via a parcel of songs that he bequeathed to Kline and around which the show’s book has been fashioned.

The show depicts Kleban’s life as almost manic. A gifted composer as well as writer, the story’s history commences in 1958 with his inpatient stay in a mental hospital, in which the fragility of his mental balance is clearly signalled. A Chorus Line was to be his only Broadway hit and this show painfully depicts the torture his soul endured at the lack of recognition afforded his musical compositions. Kleban’s mental anguish combined with his early demise make for harrowing watching, yet in Robert McWhir’s skilled hands, this little-known piece is as uplifting as it is tragic.

That A Class Act is such a glorious evening spent in the theatre, is largely due to the efforts of one man, John Barr. His Kleban is on stage almost throughout and he portrays the flawed but gifted composer with an energy that at times suggests a neuroses fuelled younger Woody Allen (the specs clinch it), albeit divinely voiced. Kleban opens the show with an inspirational number, reprised through both acts, Light On My Feet and his closing song, Self Portrait, that wraps up the chapters of his life is as moving and upsetting as a musical can be.

This is a show in which it is invidious to name individual performers. All of the seven supporting cast are outstanding. Memorable though, Barry Fantoni’s Lehman Engel, a teacher of libretto who Kleban studied under going on to teach alongside, was witty and frank. Sarah Borges’ Sophie, Kleman’s first and deepest love is a performance of beautifully calculated understatement, Erin Cornell’s seductive blonde bombshell Mona is as sensitively overstated at the opposite end of the spectrum, whilst Jane Quinn’s Lucy, in love with Kleban, plays both passion and poignancy in perfect proportion.

The company do not put a foot wrong and under Robbie O Reilly’s cleverly crafted choreography, the Landor’s space is well used and as cleverly lit by Richard Lambert. Only on until April 13, this production is a rare “must see”. It is an example of London’s and the Landor’s talents at their very best.


Runs until April 13th 2013

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Quasimodo

King's Head Theatre, London


****

Based on Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris
Music and words by Lionel Bart
Additional book material by Chris Bond and Robert Chevara
Directed by Robert Chevara



Steven Webb


Written in 1968 and incredibly never before performed, Lionel Bart's Quasimodo scales the epic grandeur of this classic tale, taming it into a show some two hours long that packs in 24 numbers. The story is well known, numerous film versions exist and even Disney released their own much nominated musical animation, with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. What makes Bart's show all the more astonishing is that it was penned some 30 years prior to the Disney movie and whilst some, (not many) of the Englishman's lyrics lack sophistication, his ability to pinpoint those pivotal moments of humanity: hope, despair, jealousy but above all, compassion and love, provides a framework around which this fabulous, even if somewhat rudimentary, show has been constructed.

Steven Webb plays the hunchback. Avoiding corny prosthetics save for a gruesome gimlet contact lens, Webb projects the hideous deformity of the young man with a combination of makeup and craft. His movement is sublime (a nod there to Lee Proud's choreography), even if, occasionally his vocal representation of this deaf young man with learning difficulties is sometimes clichéd. As always Webb is a delight to both watch and listen to. He earns our sympathy and with two numbers in particular, If Only I Were Made of Stone (sung to the cathedral gargoyles, an address that Schwartz and Menken reversed with their shtick routine of A Guy Like You) and later with Introducing You, a song that reminds us of Bart's Consider Yourself from Oliver!, in which Quasimodo delightfully introduces the cathedral bells to Esmeralda, Webb’s energy shines out. Musical director Peter Mitchell makes effective use of keyboards to suggest the different bells, in a delightful moment of music provided a very strong suggestion of location.

It is barely a cigarette paper that separates the lead roles of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Hugo’s novel was titled in French: Notre Dame de Paris and not as many believe, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmeralda (who was in fact Hugo’s main protagonist) and the love and passion that she arouses in what could be a potential ménage a cinq, provides the material for much of the show's story. Making her London debut, Zoe George is the fiery Gypsy girl who inspires the hero’s love, as well as the far more base lusts of Bishop Claude Frollo and Captain of the Guard Phoebus. George gives a passionate portrayal of the sparkling peasant girl, her flowing black hair, bare feet and simple white gypsy skirts completing the characterisation. Whilst her vocals could be perhaps a little more polished, her solitary number Live and Let Live, is a beautiful composition, movingly sung.

In Hugo’s Les Miserables, the bad-guy Thenardiers were comic villains. Here however the French author makes his villain far more dark. Claude Frollo, ostensibly a chaste priest, harbours wicked lustful intentions towards Esmeralda and James Wolstenholme’s performance of this critical supporting character is close to flawless. A casting fault of the producers however is that Wolstenholme is far too young for the role. Frollo needs to be old enough to be the equivalent of a father figure to Quasimodo and this age gap should further underline the repugnancy of his lust for the girl.

Christopher Hone’s set design makes imaginative use of ladders and platforms to suggest the cathedral rooftop whilst Robert Chevara directs his versatile cast of only 8 across numerous roles. The programme, in honest candour, describes the show as a diamond in the rough. Notwithstanding, Quasimodo has a pulse of fresh originality that can all too often be lacking in current musicals. Produced on a tiny budget and in a modest auditorium, this production emphasises the “Theatre” in Musical Theatre, providing a stirring tragic spectacle that should not be missed.

Runs to 13th April 2013

Monday, 25 March 2013

Darling Of The Day

Union Theatre, London

****

Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg
Book by Nunnally Johnson
Directed by Paul Foster



Katy Secombe and company
An Edwardian Englishman returns to London after many years on the other side of the world and assumes a new identity. A baddy seeks to expose him and a feisty widow desires his hand in marriage. Sounds like Sweeney Todd? Well in key plotlines maybe, but as a story, this is far more lighthearted than that of the dark and vengeful barber. Darling Of The Day is a whimsical musical based upon an enchantingly frivolous tale that notwithstanding a disappointing opening history on Broadway, eventually arrives at Londons compact Union Theatre for its European premiere.

The Darling of the title is celebrated artist Priam Farll, recently returned home, accompanied only by his loyal valet Henry Leek. No sooner back in Blighty, than Leek drops dead and a bumbling doctor mistakenly certifies his body as that of Farll. The real Farll, keen to escape the rat race of mercenary art dealers and fawning fans, siezes upon the opportunity to assume his butler's identity. Unbeknownst to Farll though, his manservant had established a romance via correspondence with perhaps one of the most assonantly named characters ever created, a Mrs Alice Challis. Love of course blossoms between Farll and Challis and the premise of the show follows the farcical course that Farll's adopted identity causes amongst the affairs both of the heart and of London's art scene.

Elegantly patrician with an almost Wildean affected air of disdain, James Dinsmore plays Farll as an eminently believable bohemian, keen to duck out of life's commitments. Beautifully voiced, amongst other numbers Dinsmore has the final solo of the show, Butler In The Abbey, which is a as funny as it is cleverly melodious. Michael Hobbs is Clive Oxford an art dealer whose ethics are non-existent. Oxford is another gentleman of apparent breeding and the interaction between these two wise and wily men is banter at its most elegant.

Katy Secombe plays Challis. She fits the bill of an ever so umble but nonetheless feisty Putney woman superbly and her characters arc from being a predatory widow in search of husband no. 2, to lovingly besotted wife is cleverly drawn. Buxom, grinning and cuddly, Secombe's Challis is a carefully concocted hybrid that bares more than a passing resemblance to Sondheim's Mrs Lovett and Lionel Bart's Nancy. She is a delight to observe throughout, even if occasionally she is caught out, singing beyond the limits of her most comfortable range.

As wealthy patron Lady Vale, Rebecca Caines performance is a treat. Much like a (significantly younger) Maggie Smith, Caine's pouting poise and presence, with a delightful mastery of the raised eyebrow where necessary, ensure that every barbed nuance of her character's ignorant and impressionable landed lady is to be savoured . Suffering from laryngitis on press night her songs were ably sung by Olivia Maffett.

Mention too for Matthew Rowland, who this reviewer saw not long back as Boy George in Taboo. The lad only has a modest supporting role, but his talent and presence are outstanding. Recently graduated, this remarkable young man is one to watch and he adds another dimension of quality to the show. Also in the company, Secombe's older brother Andy mops up a handful of minor characters, including a delightfully dotty judge. His face, voice and movement are a comic joy and both siblings are a credit to their legendary father Harry.

Ultimately the show is (yet another) quaint American view of England in the early 20th century, albeit written with a touch more panache than some and one that will keep you smiling throughout and guffawing occasionally. Matt Flint choreographs imaginatively around the Unions iron girders whilst Inga Davis-Rutter leads her 4 piece band with flair. Like a long lost painting found in the attic, Darling Of The Day is a newly discovered treasure that will be enjoyed by all who savour imaginative musical theatre.


Runs to 20th April 2013

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Apollo Theatre, London

*****

Based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Adapted by Simon Stephens
Directed by Marianne Elliott




Luke Treadaway

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time marks another National Theatre production to commence a West End residency. Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best selling novel is a production whose brilliant conception defines excellence in theatre.

Directed by Marianne Elliott, the tale is of  Christopher, a 15 year old from Swindon who has Asperger Syndrome. The subject matter is vast, yet this story simply presents Christopher’s viewpoint of the world from his unique perspective, where happenings in his life are meticulously processed, and where each thought and sensation is often met with an inability to filter out and prioritise. Each event is a sensory challenge for him that he must overcome and when, in the play’s second act he ventures to London alone, we share his inability to process such a vast sensory overload that even a trip on the Tube can generate.

The programme notes that the cast and production team meticulously researched for the show. As Christopher, Luke Treadaway gives a performance that is one of the finest to be found in London. Unsensationally, but brilliantly, he depicts a young man, gifted in mathematics,  focussed on the challenges or questions that confront him, but blind to the subtle nuances of life. When a well meaning neighbour unwittingly spills the beans to him of his mother’s infidelity, we feel his pain at having to grasp such a huge revelation, yet note that his response is simply to assess his mother’s actions rather than to judge her behaviour. The brilliance of both written word and actor is inspiring and humbling. Treadaway is on stage throughout the entire play and audiences are encouraged to remain after the final curtain calls, where his character explains the mathematical Pythagoras theorem, displaying the comfort and satisfaction that Christopher derives from the world of numbers, where certainties can be easily proved.

The supporting cast have some fine members. Holly Aird as Christopher’s mother and Niamh Cusack as his teacher, both give beautifully grounded performances of compassionate care and support for the young man.

Elliott’s use of her ensemble to play both people and props is inspired. The company skilfully suggest revolving doors and the bustle of London, yet also, with the simplest of beautiful physical skills, lift Christopher to make him fly as he dreams of a career as an astronaut. The other star of the show is Bunny Christie’s design. With stage and walls marked out as graph paper and brilliant use of technology and video projection from Finn Ross, the audience are transported into just a tiny glimpse of how Christopher interprets the world around him.

This show is destined to become another National treasure and it cannot be long until, having crossed the Thames, it goes on to cross the Atlantic. Not to be missed.


Booking until August 2013

 

The Bay

Certificate 15, 2012


****



Written by Michael Wallach

Director Barry Levinson

A victim of The Bay, contemplates his imminent demise
Veteran Academy award winning director Barry Levinson, with Rain Man and Tin Men amongst his accomplishments, returns to the helm dipping a toe into the horror genre with The Bay. Filmed in the increasingly popular found-footage style, Levinson’s craft shines out through most of the spinning of this ghastly yarn.

The thrust of the story has a timely ecological message. A Maryland chicken farm on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, (the area where Levinson himself grew up) owned of course by the corrupt local mayor, has been mass breeding poultry using growth accelerants to speed the birds’ development. The consequent dumping of millions of tons of steroid enhanced chicken shit into the bay has polluted the water’s fragile ecosystem and given rise to the evolution of rather nasty parasite. These isopods are capable of developing from tiny larva to apple-sized adulthood in hours, a consequence of the build up of steroids in their DNA. This waterborne menace erupts on July 4th 2009 whilst the locals are celebrating Independence Day on the water, with all sorts of fun and games, ranging from swimming to the annual crab eating contest. Of course, within hours, the good townsfolk succumb to ghastly deaths.

The movie has a couple of flaws. The lead into the horror, 3 years after the disaster, with Kristen Connolly playing the journalist survivor of the day, that provides the thread by which all the found footage can be justified to have been edited together, is corny. Also, why did this organism erupt so violently just on July 4? Surely it had been building up across the town for days/weeks beforehand. In Levinson’s defence , it may well be that found-footage plots will always struggle for a credible reason by which their tales can be told. Either way, the patronising tone of the opening sequence sits at odds with the skilfully told remainder of the movie.

The graphic footage that Levinson has created of this terrible day is very well put together. The sources range from hand held camcorders, to in-car police videos as well as cameraphone and the inevitable CCTV footage. And because these cameras are so diverse and are not expected to be HD quality, Levinson achieves much through suspense and blurred fuzzy imagery, only occasionally needing to showing scenes of horror. Whilst we may see a victim’s stomach rippling with the crawling life forms inside him, or the rare moment of an adult parasite burrowing its way out of a victim’s neck, such gruesome tableaux are deployed sparingly. As well as creating effective suspense, the fright-moments of some shocks are also very well measured.

The grainy found-footage works, with the substantial part of the movie effectively becoming the documentary type tale that the writer envisaged. The story is plausible, whilst the disgusting boils and lesions that the victims suffer, before these creatures eat their way out of their human hosts are a credit to the movie’s make-up and SFX team. The strengths of the documentary component of this film outweigh its early flaws and once this story gets going, it makes for excellent if sometimes stomach-churning viewing. Recommended.


Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Emerald

Landor Theatre, London

***

Book & lyrics by Chris Burgess
Music by Denise Wright
Directed by Nikolai Foster




Emerald at the Landor Theatre was a rather special occasion in the From Page To Stage season that is running at this Clapham cockpit of musical theatre creativity. Whilst (only) a rehearsed reading from the book, it was nonetheless a pitch perfect delivery of the show’s musical numbers, in a performance of such fidelity that it could have easily passed muster as a top notch radio play, such was the company’s vocal excellence.

The programme documents Emerald’s extensive workshopping to date, however the show remains very much in development and as a story it sits fairly and squarely in the shadow of Bill Forsyth’s 1983 movie, Local Hero:  Big corporation seeks to exploit local village to exploit oil/gold resources and the villagers win. Forsyth’s story (albeit Scottish, whereas Emerald is set on the Irish west coast) was more magical and whimsical and Chris Burgess’ book and lyrics for the most part fail to enchant and transport in the way that good musical theatre should do. The writers say in a programme note that the tale transcends nationality, going on to say, by way of example, that one does not need to be Argentinian to appreciate Evita. Whilst they have a point in principle, their comparison is conceited. Evita was majestic and global, Emerald is compact  and parochial, with a story that lacks originality. Notwithstanding, Nikolai Foster has worked his usual magic to achieve some beautiful sounds from this outstanding troupe.

West End leading lady and former soap star Claire Sweeney heads the cast as Grace, a New Yorker who journeys to the Emerald Isle in search of her roots. Sweeney is one of the few Brits who as Paulette has played an Irishwoman in the USA, in Legally Blonde and here reverses nationalities to play a Yank in Ireland. She has a large singing role in the show and two of her duets above all stood out, Everyday and I Never Wanted To Want You, the latter, with love interest Mulcahy played by the muscular and gorgeously voiced Glenn Carter, showing a real vocal chemistry between the singers. Helena Blackman put in the finely voiced turn that we have come to expect from this Maria finalist, her Hopeless was wonderful, whilst her paramour Oliver, played by Jon Paul Hevey , was an absolute aural delight as a hopelessly idiotic young Irishman in love with her. The surprise performance of the night came from veteran Sidney Livingstone as elderly villager Theo, who struck emotional gold with his beautiful number First Love.

Sarah Travis puts in a fine shift at the piano, with playing that was at all times perfectly nuanced, but the star of this reading is Nikolai Foster, who brings every voice to a perfect delivery and whose company work was stunning with some incredibly structured harmonies in the ensemble numbers with Black Pig in particular being a song that was spine-tingling to listen to.

It is hard to discern if there is a broad commercial future for this show. It needs a producer to take it on to the next step and its book needs some serious stiffening up. The production also needs to break away from the Local Hero mould to provide a more stimulating and unique journey. Nonetheless, as an opportunity to peak “behind the scenes” at some industry greats working hard to support the development of new writing, the evening was a privileged treat.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Daisy Pulls It Off

Upstairs At The Gatehouse, London

***

Written by Denise Deegan

Directed by Thom Southerland




Daisy ( Holly Dale Spencer) is made Head Girl
Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off, revived by Ovation at Highgate’s Upstairs At The Gatehouse is an excellently performed piece of theatre, that stylistically has nonetheless been left bobbing in the wake of more recent dramatic creations. First presented in the West End in 1983, where it ran for three years, it portrays a (literally) jolly hockey sticks world of an upper-crust English girls' school in the 1920s. But where Daisy Pulls It Off, some thirty years ago, lovingly overtook the St Trinians’ genre, so in these times and to varying degrees have Harry Potter and Matilda Wormwood sharpened our expectations of the role of the English public school as a source of entertainment, whilst Maria Aitken's The 39 Steps has set the bar in defining pastiche of England between the wars.  Where those productions brimmed with both humour and social comment, this show is little more than a quaint collection of plummy caricatures, likely to be of entertainment value only to stereotype-seeking American tourists or  softly natured locals. Director Southerland has a recent track record that glitters with stimulating stunning productions, but whilst this cast most definitely sparkles, the underlying show lacks fizz.

The actors do however make a fantastic job of the material. Holly Dale Spencer, fresh out of The Old Vic’s Kiss Me Kate, leads the line as Daisy Meredith. Her role is enormous, onstage almost throughout, maintaining her persevering character and flapping voice convincingly including a particularly demanding clifftop rescue (think Enid Blyton’s Famous Five) towards the play’s end. Notwithstanding that the story is tosh, Spencer remains sufficient of a trouper to still command our sympathy with her plight, as like Potter and Wormwood she tries against insurmountable odds to fit in and make friends with her schoolchums. With a nod to the St Trinians’ style of comedy, Southerland has chosen to mix in veteran actresses as the senior schoolgirls alongside the more recent drama school graduates. This idea certainly has a novelty appeal but the concept would have worked better if the elder ladies had been more well-known or household names, to enhance the ridiculous pantomime nature of their gym-slipped schoolgirl roles. Whilst their performances to a woman, are all outstanding, Paddy Glynn and Norma Atallah in particular, outside the bubble of theatre-land these esteemed actresses lack a widespread recognition and the joke factor of their age quickly wears thin.

In what is a classy acknowledgement of Alastair Sim's acting genius, Adam Venus is the show’s comic star, creating the few genuine laughs of the night with each of his scenes that he also cannot help but steal.  James Yeoburn puts in more of a turn as a scene shifter than as the school's Russian music teacher, moving a wheeled staircase around the stage that bears more than a nod to Southerland’s Mack & Mabel where such steps and platform were used wonderfully. Here they seem cumbersome.

Joanna Cichonska is simply a delight on piano. Providing background music ranging from classic school day hymns to some enchanting Dvorak interpretations, she also adds to the moments of faux-suspense brilliantly and this young Polish woman (who surely soon should have her own night at Lauderdale House or similar) continues to prove herself as a ridiculously talented musician.

When early in the second act of Daisy, Gillian Mcafferty’s character Trixie comments that its “beastly boring being stuck in here” her words have a resonance with the audience that the writer could not possibly have intended. The show is an odd choice for Ovation, who like Southerland, have wowed in recent years and months. It’s a throwback to a different era of writing, and is probably best enjoyed by those seeking little more than a mild evening’s entertainment. For this production, set your expectations of wisdom and mirth to low but then sit back to nonetheless enjoy the performances of a superb cast.


Runs to 14th April 2013

Friday, 8 March 2013

Sus

Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London


****

Written by Barrie Keefe

Directed by Paul Tomlinson



Alexander Neal
Barrie Keefe’s Sus is revived in an intimate traverse setting at Kentish Town’s Lion & Unicorn theatre. Inspired by and drawn from the police’s  “stopping on SUSpicion” powers of the 1970’s that were widely misused against the black community, the producers are keen to suggest that not a lot has changed in the last 35 years.

Set on the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory, the one act play’s action never leaves a police interview room. Interestingly, the crime for which Delroy, a black man who has been brought in from the pub for questioning, is not a SUS matter, but rather the recent bloody death of his pregnant wife,  where CID officers Karn and Wilby have not unreasonable initial grounds to suspect him of her murder. It is the extent however to which these institutionally racist coppers pursue their line of inquiry, throwing their rule book out of the window and treating their suspect appallingly, that makes for such gripping theatre that is at times unbearable to watch.

Keefe’s writing has always been gritty, peppered with just enough coarse language and above all sprinkled with frequent exchanges of cockney gallows-humour that only an accomplished London writer can master. That a highly charged moment of confrontation can be reduced, in a moment, to a comparison of the respective sexual charms of TV newsreaders  Anna Ford and  Angela Rippon (this is 1979 remember) demonstrates Keefe’s ability to make one chuckle uncomfortably whilst at the same time cranking up the dramatic tension.

Wole Sawyerr is Delroy who, as the the mood of the piece darkens, digs deep to find his his grief and his rage . When he is beaten up by Wilby, one feels for the agony of the blows and his pleading tears crave our sympathy. Of the two cops, Nason Crone’s Wilby is perhaps the most stereotyped. His is the lesser educated of the two policemen, most capable of expressing his contempt for Delroy with his fists. Wilby is a complex character with whom Crone has yet to engage at an appropriate level of depth.

It is Alexander Neal’s Karn that is the engine at the core of this production in a performance that again demonstrates the excellence to be found on London’s fringe. Neal relishes every word of Keefe’s carefully crafted irony and chain smoking, moustachioed and with hair greased back, he embodies a truly ugly side of the police that Life on Mars’ Gene Hunt set about portraying in an altogether lighter vein.

Seen today, Sus is a fascinating piece of historical comment, that at the very least was prescient in describing the culture that was to surround the police response to the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence.  Two years after the play premiered at Theatre Royal Stratford East (where Paul Barber defined Delroy) Brixton and Toxteth erupted into riot, largely prompted by an abuse of the Sus laws. The programme states that this production is a response to the 2011 riots but that association seems a little opportunistic. The social and violent unrest of those more recent summer troubles was certainly a complex cocktail, probably fuelled by a lot more than just a kicking out at a racist police force.

As an observation, the packed audience on press night (some of whom were atrociously behaved and all credit to the actors for playing on) was entirely white, not an accurate reflection of this city’s ethnic make-up and Sus is nothing if not a play that deserves to be seen by all. A strong company, Neal’s chilling performance and Keefe’s still shockingly electric writing make for a troubling 90 minutes. Catch it if you can.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Maria Friedman Sings Lenny & Steve

The Pheasantry, London

****



Maria Friedman
Maria Friedman makes a welcome return to the intimacy of a London cabaret run in this her first ever residency at Chelsea's Pheasantry.

The Lenny and Steve are of course Bernstein and Sondheim, the latter of whom has established a relationship of renowned mutual respect with Ms Friedman. Having now tackled most of Sondheim's leading female roles, the ease with which this honey-voiced singer extracts feeling and nuance from the often complex numbers defines her almost innate connection with the material

Both the writers are of course indelibly linked with New York and so Friedman’s  opening song, What More Do I Need, from Saturday Night, is a loving tribute to the Big Apple. Its brash melodies evoke the noise and buzz of the city and who other than Sondheim could write the line “A two ton child running wild upstairs” to cleverly capture the apartment/tenement style of Manhattan life. Segueing seamlessly into Company’s Another 100 People, the New York tone of her set was sealed.

100 Easy Ways To Lose A Man saw the singer’s funny side and her ability to work the wit of Bernstein’s lyrics was assured, providing one of the evening’s many masterclasses in acting through song. The respect that Friedman commands within her industry was underlined with her anecdotal tale of Cameron Mackintosh asking her to perform a set of songs, each selected from the works of Sondheim, Boublil & Schonberg, Lloyd-Webber etc at his recent birthday celebrations, and in the presence of these esteemed composers who would all be guests at the party. The tale was honest and amusing, and for all Friedman’s modest self-deprecation, one suspects that she astounded.

A mark of the diva's steel was her interrupting her (beautiful) interpretation of Being Alive, to request that an elderly front row diner kindly put his cutlery down until the song was over. The song was indeed sublime, and she courteously kissed hands with the hungry fan at its conclusion, but her focus and resolve in that episode provided a glimpse of the standards that she sets herself. Jason Carr on piano provided accomplished accompaniment throughout and it was evident how comfortable these two performers are in working with each other.

Losing My Mind was another soulful yet searing performance, whilst Send In The Clowns was given a moving and respectful interpretation, that was greeted with almost hushed reverence by the packed audience.

Make sure to cheer for an encore. She gave two on her opening night with an at times singalong Officer Krupke that was riotously brilliant. That she was battling and conquering a throat infection made her performance all the more remarkable and when she shakes the virus off, the remainder of her gigs (book NOW, some are already sold out) will provide simply stellar interpretations of these wonderful songs.

In residence to March 10 2013