St James' Studio, London
Arriving from Melbourne Australia, via Tokyo, Japan, and with a hint of London’s Clapham, Erin Cornell’s one-woman cabaret touched down almost next door to Buckingham Palace, packing out the St James' Studio. An established musical theatre star of the Asia Pacific region, this blonde bombshell (think Marilyn Monroe/Debbie Harry, with just a dash of Kylie) who to date has been broadly unknown over here, is making a very impressive UK debut.
Opening her set with Annie Lennox’ 1,000 Beautiful Things, Cornell made it clear that she did not plan to stick to theatrical numbers and when she then seamlessly segued into U2’s Beautiful Day, a stadium-sized song demanding a massive performance, she rose to that challenge magnificently, providing the first of several truly spine-tingling moments.
Sporting a provocatively cut little black dress, Miss Cornell was delightfully ditzy as she coped well to maintain dignity and avoid potential wardrobe malfunctions. She showed an infectiously enthusiastic confidence both in herself and in her material, that was just so refreshing and also so damned strine too.
Cornell’s pedigree is impressive. Having been Elphaba in Tokyo and acknowledging that her audience were hungry for some Wicked, The Wizard and I was a beautifully delivered treat. She then went on to explain that the Japanese production required her part to be performed in the local tongue, before launching into the most hilarious and melodically perfect mash-up of What Is This Feeling? blended with For Good, slipping effortlessly between English and Japanese in a virtuoso performance of Schwartz’s two songs, before signing off her Wicked tribute with a seductive “sayonara”.
Releasing the power of her “Aussie sheila within”, Cornell performed fellow Antipodean Matthew Robinson’s, Kerry’s Land, a song that is little known in the UK but judging by the audience response (a lot of southern hemisphere ex-pats in the throng), clearly a well observed take on life down-under, where “men were men, and girls were men”. Smash’s Keep Moving The Line closed act one on an impressive high.
The second half saw Cornell return wearing a shimmering little sequinned number and launching straight into Evita’s Rainbow High. With a beautiful belt, she gave a rarely heard passion to the Lloyd Webber/Rice composition and when the lyrics spoke of “star quality”, they could have been written with Cornell in mind. Her next song was Mona, a solo from Kleban’s A Class Act , in which Cornell is currently appearing at Clapham’s Landor Theatre. Hers is a funny raunchy piece in a show of often raw emotions and it was a delight to hear her fellow cast members, at St James’ to hear her perform, whoop applause for their fellow trouper.
In a surprise twist, Simon Bowman popped up to duet in Queen’s song Pressure, before going on to play acoustic guitar, accompanying the singer in her cover of his own composition He’s Just A Man, demonstrating a powerful performing synergy between the artistes.
Not afraid to tackle the greats, this Australian diva took on Funny Girl’s The Music That Makes Me Dance with a truly invigorating flourish of Streisand chutzpah in her delivery and then, much as a girl-racer might hurtle a Mercedes around Monte Carlo, Cornell slammed the brakes on the evening’s tempo to truly treat her audience to one of Minelli’s signature Cabaret numbers Maybe This Time. Not for the first time, the singer wept as she sung, her ability to act through song having remained exquisite at all times.
Immense credit to Theo Jamieson and his three piece band who provided understated excellence throughout the gig, with arrangements that complemented the singer perfectly.
New to the capital, Erin Cornell has a lot to offer. Her voice and her presence are stunning and it surely cannot be too long before this utter whirlwind of a performer is given a major role in a London show.
A Class Act is running at The Landor Theatre until April 13th 2013
Photo: Darren Bell