production photo by piranaphotography.com
Going to a one-woman show with a big West End diva. Caroline O’Connor. Who? You know, she’s British but very big in Australia, was in the Sondheim Prom and played the taxi driver in ‘On The Town’ at the Coliseum judging by Tuesday’s audience it was the most gay, geeky or Australian show-tune fanciers who had beaten a path to Ms. O’Connor’s discounted Garrick door.
We even found one who’d paid to get in.
Which is a pity, because she’s bloody good at what she does. And for those of us who share an allergic reaction to the strain of Strallens currently running through the West End like a norovirus, here’s antidotal relief in a musical star that isn’t a shrill leggy blonde with hyperextended stage-school technique.
Neither a narrative production nor a simple cabaret act, the show incorporates anecdotes - the muezzin’s interruption of Chicago in the Lebanon being one of the best - brilliant spoof movie clips, and medleys from several productions as well as well-sung belted standards like ‘Zing Went The Strings of My Heart’, ‘And the Beat Goes On’ and a lovely affectionate version of ‘I Move On’ from the film version of Chicago.
If you compare their performances as Cassie in A Chorus Line or Chicago’s Velma Kelly, Ann Reinking may be more balletic or Ute Lemper more memorably Weimar, but no-one else better captures the characters’ raw-veined desperation - as O’Connor herself puts it - like a cat falling down the wall, clawing to hang on.
But like everything else in this show, she captures it loudly. If there’s a fault in the otherwise ravishing orchestrations, it’s that they indulge her capacity for arm-raising crescendo once, or possibly ten times, too often. By the middle of the second half, this feels like a two-hour audition as she gives us her Piaf, Judy, Liza, Into-the-Woods Witch and Merman. Setting aside the fact that by the time Piaf was Ms. O’Connor’s age she was dead, this is possibly one diva too far.
There’s a seven-piece band which would be an entertaining act in itself, led by MD Daniel Edmonds whose Rachmaninov variations on Roxanne were the hit of the night - and the production is richly glossed by Andrew Wright’s inventive choreography, ranging from Fosse hommage to unashamed 42nd Street hoofing and delivered with great charm by the young quartet of Cole Kitchenn protégées.
If it's an audition, it may work: rumour says that there's a West End revival of Kiss of the Spider Woman on its way, and Ms O'Connor is ideal for Aurora.
Caroline O’Connor: The Showgirl Within continues at the Garrick Theatre until Sunday 3 October with evening performances at 8pm, Sunday also at 4pm. Runs 2 hours including interval. Seats at the rear of the stalls may not be able to see all of the projection screen. Tickets £18 -£53 although this is a big theatre and not sold out so search for discounts and offers. Full-priced tickets here