If you’ve ever felt disheartened by the notion of never being able to see the most notable and celebrated divas of stage and screen in one place, then worry no more. Christine Pedi whirls into London this summer with her newest show Great Dames, presenting a fabulous repertoire of cabaret, caricature and commemoration to remind us of the stellar talents we’ve celebrated over the last century. Her critically acclaimed, long running mini-autobiography receives an updated revamp and booms with joyous storytelling and fantastic vocals, made all the more enjoyable by a hostess whose joie de vivre has the audience positively cackling with glee.
Pedi starts by talking us through, or rather singing us through, some of the first songs and performers who influenced her in her formative years. Naturally, she begins with Ethel Merman and as the first few notes leave her throat, we realise that she isn’t simply singing a song about Merman, she is embodying her. The effect is both hilarious and incredibly convincing. For the next ninety minutes, Pedi takes on each of her heroines and, by way of parody, pays tribute to their distinguished successes. Moving through Judy Garland, Cher and Barbra Streisand to name but a few, we arrive finally as Pedi is almost possessed by the spirit of Liza Minnelli, for which she is most known to satirise. As Minnelli she stumbles about the stage with effusive joviality before embarking on an ABBA medley. Each of the personas are mashed together in the show’s finale as Pedi juggles the characters, adding Bernadette Peters, Julie Andrews and Carol Channing into the mix and the whole company takes on the behemoth of modern musical theatre: Les Misérables.
To say that Christine Pedi has talent would be a gross understatement. Her ability to accurately portray a great range of distinctly different personalities and performance styles is truly a joy to behold. She effortlessly slides about the vocal scale to mimic Streisand’s distinctive tones before conquering Cher’s contralto and Julie Andrews’ swooping soprano. What comes as a really refreshing surprise is that Pedi makes each of the caricatures side-splittingly funny without ridiculing her subjects. Her imitation is born from real admiration and she positively waxes lyrical about the flourishing careers each of these women has enjoyed. Dotted between these impersonations are some rather sombre and very touching performances that relate to Pedi’s own history in some way. Her rendition of ‘The Boy Next Door’ from Meet Me in St. Louis is calm and pensive and provides a fantastic opportunity for her to display her acting talents. Pedi’s wonderfully rich and brassy voice swirls about the intimate space of Crazy Coqs and blends seamlessly from one diva to the next. Unquestionably, she saves the best for last blazing through song after song and we are eventually whisked up, along with her selection of songstresses, into a blizzard of musical theatre Elysium.
Great Dames is a show that can be enjoyed by anyone who has even the slightest interest in the theatre. Christine Pedi manages to balance the songs from film and live performance and intersperses the piece with regular charming anecdotes. Her buoyant personality and engaging nature make the evening especially enjoyable and offer some much needed relief from the fraught social and political current events. A roaring success – not to be missed.
Reviewed by Alex Foott