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This one-off concert was, as emcee Lucy Dreaver reminded us on more than one occasion, a celebration of one hundred years of women in musical theatre.
The reasoning for the rounding to an exact century is not clear – there’s certainly nothing in the 1918 musical calendar of particular note, unless one wishes to celebrate the abundance of exclamation points in Jerome Kern’s Oh, Lady! Lady!!. Nor, too, were musicals in the preceding years male only.
But that’s all by the by, as it’s an excuse to celebrate some of the songs written for actresses by musical writers from Cole Porter to Sara Bareilles. Producers Lambert Jackson, whose co-founder Jamie Lambert won Britain’s Got Talent as part of musical theatre performing group Collabro, assembled a quite frankly superb quartet of performers for their debut show: Wicked alumnae Louise Dearman, Alexia Khadime and Rachel Tucker, along with musical theatre stalwart (and Norma Desmond extraordinaire) Ria Jones.
Adopting a chronological running order, the show opened with Cole Porter’s Anything Goes (whose authorship in 1934 belies the idea of a whole century being celebrated), the entire quartet demonstrating a liveliness and mutual admiration that would continue to permeate the rest of the show.
As one might expect, the first half of a chronological run through musical theatre history came to have a first half dominated by Richard Rodgers – from Ria Jones’ beguiling performance of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey to a four-song sequence of Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers. And while the message behind Oklahoma!’s I Cain’t Say No – in which a woman finds herself unable to reject any man’s advances – is not exactly the most feminist message on display, it did at least signal a turning point in musical history, which saw many an R&H musical feature strong, independently minded women.
That blossoming of female roles in the mid 20th century is called out by Dreaver after the Rodgers and Hammerstein sequence, albeit while introducing numbers from Gypsy (burlesque dancer strips for the entertainment of men) and Oliver! (woman sings ballad about returning and returning to the abusive husband who would ultimately kill her). But while the politics of the characters may be in dispute, the performance of the songs is not: Ria Jones’s Rose’s Turn is magnificent, while Rachel Tucker brought back memories of her emergence in the BBC series I’d Do Anything with a performance of As Long As He Needs Me that far outshone anything she or any of the other contestants accomplished on that show, and which demonstrates how far she has come in the years since.
Also in Act I, newcomer Daisy Greenwood – a 17-year-old musical theatre student who won a competition to join the evening’s bill – brought the house down with a performance of Don’t Rain On My Parade that performers twice her age would struggle to match.
After Act I closes with a steamy, hilarious rendition of Big Spender by the show’s quartet of performers, the second act concentrates on more modern musicals. Numbers from The Wiz and Jekyll and Hyde (Khadime’s Home from the former being one of the most beautiful renditions of a song which has become a standard of cabaret performers) nestle alongside some of the genre’s biggest hitters – from Dearman’s beautiful rendition of I Dream a Dream from Les Misérables to Jones and Tucker’s powerful duet of I Know Him So Well, the breakout hit song from Chess.
But the midpoint of Act 2 also becomes its high point, as Jones reprises her role as Norma Desmond in a belting rendition of Sunset Boulevard’s With One Look. Prompting the first standing ovation of the evening, Jones demonstrated just why those people who had paid to see Glenn Close in the West End revival but instead saw her got the better end of the deal.
As the evening drew close to the modern day, it was perhaps inevitable that the three former Elphabas on stage united for a number from Wicked. Their rendition of The Wizard and I was definitely a crowd pleaser, and clearly the number which many of the paying audience had come to see.
And despite this evening being amount women in musical theatre, it is notable how many songs, including that one, come to be dominated by men – wanting them, loving them, not rejecting them when that would be the most sensible course of action. This chronological traipse through the musical theatre songbook does indicate that it’s easier to find songs of genuine female empowerment the closer you get to the modern day.
There may not be a Bechdel Test for musical theatre cabaret (if there was, it would be “Does this evening contain any songs from Fun Home?”, a test this evening sadly fails). But the show’s final two numbers, a beautifully winsome rendition of She Used to Be Mine from Waitress by Dearman before a barnstorming finale number of Let It Go, demonstrate that the future for women in musical theatre – both on stage and as part of the writing process – is rosy.
Here’s to the next hundred(ish) years.
Lambert Jackson’s debut show, There is Nothin’ Like a Dame, was a smash hit, with four talented actresses celebrating 100 years of women in musical theatre.
West End stars Louise Dearman, Ria Jones, Alexia Khadime, and Rachel Tucker showcased famous female roles from the past century in chronological order over the course of the night, with each number seeming to be better than the last.
It was a wonderful balance of solos, duets, and even trios and quartets. The show opened with a great “Anything Goes” quartet and ended with all four women singing “Let It Go” from current Broadway hit Frozen.
Some other highlights of the night included Alexia Khadime’s sultry “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Showboat and Ria Jones bringing the house down via “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard. Rachel Tucker and Ria Jones absolutely did justice to the gorgeous “I Know Him So Well” from Chess, and the “Big Spender” quartet was somehow simultaneously sexy and funny.
They did a splendid selection of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, with Rachel Tucker singing a hilarious “I Cain’t Say No”, Alexia Khadime a bouncy and playful “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, Ria Jones an elegant “Shall We Dance”, and Louise Dearman a stunning “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
Louise Dearman also performed wonderful renditions of “I Dreamed a Dream” and “She Used to Be Mine”. In general, the concert emphasised her versatility as a performer. One of the best numbers of the night was the truly magical “The Wizard and I”, sung by three former Elphabas: Louise Dearman, Alexia Khadime and Rachel Tucker.
Lambert Jackson held a competition to pick a young singer to have the chance to do a number onstage. Daisy Greenwood sang a great rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, especially considering she’s only 17 years old. It was so wonderful to see a potential future West End star up amongst four actresses with illustrious careers and many credits to their names.
Cadogan Hall is always a lovely venue for a musical theatre concert as it provides a stately backdrop. It is also worth mentioning that between the four ladies, they wore eight gorgeous gowns over the course of the concert. The audience clearly was having a blast and there were multiple standing ovations over the course of the evening.
One of the best parts of the night was seeing the four stars watch each other perform with such joy on their faces. In today’s world, it’s so important for women to support each other and it was amazing to see proof of it happening onstage. These four very talented women demonstrated that there have been some great female roles over the past century.
Here’s to a hundred years’ more!
This first show from the newly formed Lambert Jackson Productions celebrated female characters from musicals – with the help of four vocally powerful West End stars.
It has to be said that if this show proved anything it is that female characters from musicals have had some of the most iconic songs to sing across the last one hundred years – whether it is ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Miserables, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Carousel or ‘Rose’s Turn’ from Gypsy.
This first production from Lambert Jackson productions really celebrated the way in which female musical theatre characters have begun to dominate on stage – particularly highlighted by performances of ‘She Used to Be Mine’ from Waitress and ‘Let it Go’ from new Broadway hit Frozen.
But it was also a treat not only to hear how many songs in musicals sung by female performers over the years have become iconic, but a real pleasure to hear them sung by four of the classiest performers around: Louise Dearman, Rachel Tucker, Ria Jones and Alexia Khadime – all of whom offered beautiful renditions of some of the best known songs in the musical theatre repertoire.
Particular highlights included a sassy version of ‘Anything Goes’, which opened the show playfully and allowed the performers to relax into what was a rich and varied evening. Meanwhile, Alexia Khadime offered a gorgeous rendition of ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ that captured her vocal range well, while Ria Jones deservedly got a standing ovation for her performance of ‘With One Look’ from Sunset Boulevard.
Elsewhere, Rachel Tucker’s rendition of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ from Oliver was particularly moving and Louise Dearman offered a stunningly heartfelt version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. But the evening was plenty of fun too thanks to the sultriness of ‘Big Spender’, a thrilling performance of ‘The Wizard and I’ and Louise Dearman and Alexia Khadime’s performance of ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’.
But the show was also highlighted Lambert Jackson Production’s commitment to highlighting new talent emerging on the scene. The company held a competition to pick a young singer to sing on stage – and what a talent they have found. Seventeen year old Daisy Greenwood sang a powerful and mesmerising version of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ which went down a storm with the audience – and something tells me that this isn’t the last we have seen of her.
There is Nothing Like a Dame was received warmly by the audience and came across as a powerful and moving tribute to some of the most beloved female musical theatre characters over the last century – let’s hope that in the future there will be even more characters to be celebrated.
Overall, There is Nothing Like a Dame was a wonderful way to spend the evening. By allowing female characters and performers to take centre stage in this way it highlights the strengths and talents of female performers working in the West End today to great effect and deserves to be applauded.