“Happiness comes in on tiptoe…”
Fresh from the huge success that was Hello, Dolly! at the Curve in Leicester which in turn followed hard on the heels of the Royal Court’s NSFW, Janie Dee is clearly not one to rest on her laurels as she now debuts a brand new cabaret show – Satin Doll – at the uniquely named The Crazy Coqs in the basement of Brasserie Zédel. And it is a unique venue too, a circular room decorated in Art Deco swathes and stripes of black, white and red, nested in a rather swanky looking suite of brasseries and cocktail bars and the ideal kind of special and intimate space for cabaret.
Dee has long demonstrated her flexibility as a performer – her cabaret pedigree includes a 2002 turn at Divas at the Donmar – and it is clear she enjoys forging new creative relationships. This new show has been put together with her musical director from Hello, Dolly! Ben Atkinson, who accompanied on her piano this evening and if the show was a little slow to get going (beyond its delayed beginnings), it can well be forgiven as we were indeed “a virgin audience” and there will be ample time to finetune the nuances of Satin Doll.
Her repertoire embraces the breadth of her experience, taking in musical theatre, jazz standards, a touch of Motown here, a smattering of Broadway glamour there and it is a classy combination that makes the hour of the show fly by. I love Dee’s voice best in her richly expressive lower register and so it proved as she purred seductively through classics like ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ and ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ and a gorgeous song called by ‘Casablanca’ by Kit and McConnel (who will appear at this same venue next month). An amazingly elegant complete costume change whilst singing Dreamgirls’ ‘I Am Changing’ was impressive and a trio of Kander & Ebb numbers – ‘There Goes The Ball Game’, ‘Yes’ and a shimmeringly delicate ‘A Quiet Thing’ – show off a real affinity for their material too, Dee revels in their hushed subtleties and wry sentiments.
But cabaret is more than just singing, it is about the ‘show’ as well and it is here where Satin Doll showed its teething problems and also its biggest strengths. Waiting three songs before really speaking to the audience, especially after the delayed start, left an uncertain note in the air that didn’t feel as comfortable as it ought. But as Dee found her groove and the anecdotes started to flow, the atmosphere settled marvellously. Tales from her past as a nightclub singer, her history with Harold Pinter and the very room in which she was performing and an intimately personal story about her eventful family Christmas – leading into a rousing rendition of Dolly’s ‘So Long Dearie’ – really showed off the best side of what cabaret can be, an insight into a performer, their life and their creative choices. Recommended.