Crazy Coqs, London
It was barely a few months ago that Ray Shell kicked off his cabaret journey to rave reviews at London's Pheasantry. Now back in the West End for a short stint at the Crazy Coqs, the art-deco venue was packed to welcome his return. Shell’s voice (and his range!) are simply sensational and that the room was well filled with original Starlight Express cast from 30 years ago, spoke volumes for the warmth of the regard in which this "legendary" (I use the word advisedly, according to Shell it means "old" in showbiz talk) performer is held.
Shell opened his set wandering around the room, greeting friends and benignly chiding any latecomers, all to a heavenly delivered Pentecostal hymn. He explained that as his father had been a minister in the church, how those melodies had been so influential in his early exposure to music. That he was singing a capella only added to the divinity of the moment. And a gig that started off fabulous, was only to get better.
Much of the set was as played at the Pheasantry (a link to that review can be found at the foot of this article) though fresh gems added to the evening's sparkle. Smokey Robinson's Tracks Of My Tears was just sublime, whilst Shell's handling of One Night Only from Dreamgirls tingled spines. Duetting with one of his impressive young singing students Shell gave a classy take on The Police's hit Wrapped Around Your Finger, before an interpretation of Miss Saigon's The Movie In My Mind that defined why the song is one of the show's finest.
Rob Barron on piano and Paul Jenkins on keys were seamless in support throughout and as Cats and Star Wars dancer Femi Taylor looked on, Shell saved the best for last. Giving a respectful nod to the late and much missed Stephanie Lawrence who created the role, he invited Kim Leeson, a subsequent Pearl at the Apollo Victoria, to join him in Only You from Starlight Express. As the song's harmonica intro played, this reviewer was just dissolved. I have not seen a finer cabaret turn.
The set ended with the sweetest rendition of Starlight Express’ title song before Shell wrapped up his second clamoured-for encore, with Amy Winehouse's Back To Black. The gig was rare and magical. When Shell returns in cabaret and he will, don't miss him.