You could be forgiven for thinking that a sitcom actress who pockets thirteen million dollars a season for Will and Grace might indulge herself with any kind of vanity project including hiring a band and the Vaudeville Theatre for a debut week in the West End.
But this isn’t a vanity, Mullally has worked with her backing group ‘Supreme Music Program‘ for twelve years and her range of vocal styles is extraordinary: from blues to country and Sondheim to Stones she nailed song after song with a deft and personal attack, attack being the operative word when her rock voice reaches a controlled screech in a trailer-trash banger like ‘Fancy’ by Reba McEntyre or Ryan Adams’ ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’, but tender and connected in perhaps her best piece, Randy Newman’s luminous ‘Real Emotional Girl’.
Many of the songs are about death and some of the self-pitying country music teeters on the edge of ironic although the audience remained unsure whether her delivery was straight, or tongue-in-cheek.
Whilst Mullally has successfully laid the ghost of ‘Karen Walker’ in the States, partly through a series of disastrous television projects, it’s harder to escape in the UK where Channel 4 daily repeats keep it fresher - and much of Tuesday’s audience was sibilantly disappointed that this wasn’t ‘Karen with a K’ aping Liza with a Z and giving her camp and bitchy all to an in-crowd.
Sexual overtones spike the whole set, in the post-show Q&A Mullally defended her choice of many songs written specifically for men and for which she resolutely wouldn’t change the gender, partly to attest to the authenticity of the piece, but also ‘If people see me performing as a man - so what’, an attitude loudly appreciated by the substantial lesbian claque in the stalls.
Downside is that this is a lazy concert, Mullally told only one averagely funny anecdote about her boring tour guide in Prague and seemed reluctant to engage with the audience, perhaps for fear of resurrecting Karen. She has pitching problems and it’s hard to tell whether it’s refreshingly honest that she re-started a couple of numbers to find the right key, or under-rehearsed.
She could do with a script, and a director to tighten the presentation, but the music’s mostly a knockout.
Continues at the Vaudeville Theatre 8pm each evening until Sunday 21 February, with two shows Saturday and Sunday at 4pm and 8pm. Box Office 0844 412 4663, top price £47.50.