The Pheasantry, London
Last night saw the fabulous Kerry Ellis commence a five gig residency at The Pheasantry on London’s King Road. In the heart of chic Chelsea, sporting an outfit that was youthfully elegant with her immaculately coiffed flowing blonde hair and Louboutins to die for, Miss Ellis looked a million dollars even before she sang a note. And then she sang. And for 80 marvellous minutes, proved why she has played Wicked's Elphaba on both sides of the Atlantic, played We Will Rock You's Meat and inspired Queen's legendary guitarist Brian May to throw himself into developing her solo career.
Opening with Rodgers & Hart’s The Lady Is A Tramp, Ellis delivered vocal perfection from that song’s initial bars, right the way through to her set's encore. Will Stuart accompanying her throughout is yet another gifted young musical director whose mastery of the piano is as astounding as Ellis' vocals and whose support for his leading lady was almost intuitive throughout the evening, providing a sublime combination of voice and instrument.
Reminding us that prior to fame her break had come at the National Theatre understudying Eliza Doolittle, where, circumstances (fortunately for her) allowed her to play the lead on numerous occasions, she went on to perform I Could Have Danced All Night, in a Craig Adams arrangement. Her light, lilting and refreshing take on such a well known number almost re-imaging Lerner and Loewe’s classic.
Her set included numerous favourites, including a handful of Queen songs ( in which an audience singalong was encouraged) that led on to her paying warm tribute to May. Before Ellis performed The Way We Were, she shared that May, whilst rehearsing her, had struggled with the idea of him as a rock star coaching her in a Barbra Streisand classic! Suffice to say that her performance of the song was merely a continuation of the spine-tingling experience that the evening had by now become.
With the song At Last, a 1942 composition, since then of course widely covered and most famously by Beyonce and Etta James, Ellis unleashed the astonishing power and range of her voice, allowing her notes to soar almost eagle like, conveying the melody’s grandeur, yet returning too, to the tight close intimacies of its closing stanzas, which played out in the acoustic cockpit of The Pheasantry, proved an aural delicacy to be savoured by the 50 strong privileged crowd.
Ellis had both the talent and the confidence to work her audience brilliantly. When seeking an audience member to sing the Glinda part in For Good, and then choosing a game young lad (14yo Billy from Essex), effortlessly switching to sing a more appropriate As Long As Your Mine instead, (Billy was delighted!) she led a duet, which albeit one half of which was an extremely well attempting amateur schoolboy, went on to generate genuine cheers from the crowd.
Amongst the evening’s remaining highlights were Scott Alan’s wonderful and rarely heard Never Neverland, and her encore of Queen’s No-One But You (Only the Good Die Young), the latter moving many to tears in a song that recognises not only Freddie Mercury, but also when sung by Ellis, is a signature of her recognition of her mentoring from May.
Kerry Ellis' performance of every number was of sufficent precision and beauty that one could have imagined each song had been composed just for her. Rarely have I left a cabaret performance and wished there was a CD of the night to take away. To see Ellis, up close and in such an intimate venue is indeed a privilege, She is there until Sunday. Not to be missed.
Kerry Ellis performs at The Pheasantry until February 10th 2013