The Pheasantry, London
“Leave your troubles outside!Life is disappointing? Forget it!Here, life is beautiful!”
And with those immortal Kander & Ebb lyrics, Janie Dee opened her cabaret set to a full house at The Pheasantry. Indeed, set against a world still battling the ravages of the pandemic, to say nothing of the horrendous London weather, life did appear to be briefly beautiful in the gorgeous intimacy of that Kings Road basement.
Dee is one of London’s finest musical theatre and cabaret performers. Her wisdom, experience, talent and sensational voice imbue her with a presence that not only earns our attention but rather commands it, allowing her to take the audience’s emotions on a rollercoaster ride of perfectly pitched pathos and playfulness, masterfully supported by musical director Stephen Higgins.
A selection of Kander & Ebb numbers followed their Wilkommen opener, with Dee sharing how the composers’ 1971 song Yes! had recently seen John Kander graciously permit her to tweak that number’s lyrics so as to accommodate Dee’s passionately held concerns over climate change, a belief that allowed her to seamlessly segue into a delicious delivery of What A Wonderful World.
An early guest slot saw Dee's guitarist son Alfie Wickham play a brief set, commencing with an enchanting take on the classical melody Spanish Romance. Wickham played with confidence, skill and an on-stage assuredness - the young man has remarkable potential.
Dee closed her first act with her first Sondheim number of the night, Send In The Clowns. Close-up and cocooned on this Chelsea stage, and having played Desiree Armfeldt on a number of previous occasions, Dee gave the song a rare intensity in her interpretation. Indeed, having heard the song sung live on countless occasions I found that listening to Dee's Desiree, the one that I wanted was hers.
Sondheim's Another Hundred People got the second act underway in what was to prove another carefully crafted setlist that fused merriment with melancholy. Copytype was a sharply satirical look back at the days when typewriters were a thing, while Dee again gave a hauntingly contemporary resonance to Jerry Herman’s Time Heals Everything. Wickham returned to the stage to accompany his mum on Fly Me To The Moon, as Janie wrapped up events with a resounding The Ladies Who Lunch.
Everybody rise? – such was Dee's commanding gravitas that we very nearly did as we were bade!
It’s great that cabaret is back in town and helmed by their supremely well-connected resident host Ruth Leon (herself an 'Emcee' who could give Joel Grey more than a run for his money), The Pheasantry is destined to be packing them in over the next few months.
Photo credit: Angie Lawrence