For quite a few of us theatregoers, there are few pleasures in life as thrilling as watching a West End leading lady effortlessly belting out a showtune. When those voices hit full throttle and the roof threatens to burst off the building, you’re in the presence of something pretty special. Multiply that by four, and you get ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame‘, a concert held at Cadogan Hall, which celebrated a century of women in musical theatre.
There’s a pretty strong argument to be made that women get all the best songs in musicals. Sure there’s some great belters for men to be found in Phantom, Jekyll & Hyde, Les Mis and so on, but the truly electrifying, show-stopping, breath-taking numbers are usually given to the women. And rightly so. The songs and roles given to women in musical theatre have gifted the world with some truly iconic performances, from political figures to fantastical witches, fading movie stars to fame-hungry murderesses, with a few pie-shop owners and Egyptian princesses thrown in for good measure.
Cadogan Hall celebrated the last century of these roles and songs, giving the enraptured audience highlights from shows such as Chicago, Wicked, Waitress, Show Boat, Gypsy, The Wiz and many more. It took us through the decades and highlighted the journey that actresses have been on, from being little more than decoration on stage to becoming the driving force of their own stories. This was an evening celebrating female empowerment, and all of the strength, talent, beauty and power that comes with it.
Supplying the vocals were four of the West End’s biggest talents; Ria Jones, fresh from touring the UK in Sunset Boulevard. Alexia Khadime, previously seen in The Lion King, The Book Of Mormon and Wicked. And two other former citizens of Oz, the sublime Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman. This quartet of women have collectively headlined nearly every musical you can throw a stick at, and embodied roles as diverse as Norma Desmond, Eva Peron, Grizabella, Elphaba, Reno Sweeney, Miss Adelaide and countless others. We are talking about a serious level of talent here. And boy, was it on display.
Now, before I go on, I must admit a certain bias here – I am a massive fan of Louise and Rachel, having seen them separately and together around a dozen times in various productions and concerts. I could listen to them sing a Chinese takeaway menu and be completely enthralled from the appetisers to the pineapple fritters. So please feel free to discount some of the upcoming superlatives if you’re not quite as obsessed with these leading ladies as I am.
It was evening of two halves, with Act 1 spanning the 1920s to the 1940s, taking us through classics such as Anything Goes, Show Boat, and a Rodgers & Hammerstein medley. Act 2 covered the 1970s to today, and gave us one crowd-pleasing power-belter after another, from Chicago and Les Mis through to Wicked and Waitress.
There really was something for everyone, and indeed a voice to suit all tastes. Obviously, every audience member’s dream setlist would’ve varied enormously, but few would have gone home disappointed with the selection. Similarly, everyone would’ve had a preferred performer out of the four, but all of them did an amazing job. Ria’s voice doesn’t fill my ears as pleasantly as the other three, but obviously that’s down to personal preference and she was undeniably competent, and she did win me over with her fantastic rendition of ‘Rose’s Turn’ from Gypsy. She also scored the evening’s biggest solo standing ovation with a performance of ‘With One Look’ from Sunset Boulevard. Alexia also did brilliantly, between her great version of Show Boat’s ‘Can’t Help Loving Dat Man Of Mine’ and hitting every high note in ‘Home’ from The Wiz.
Being the superfan that I am, the evening unsurprisingly belonged (for me) to Rachel and Louise. Rachel found real emotion while belting out Oliver’s ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, and gave Streisand a run for her money during ‘On A Clear Day You Can See Forever’. She is very skilled at acting her songs and has such an assured voice that you always know she’ll smash that top note every single time (even if they did put her in the most hideous frock for Act 2)
Fans of the Tucker-Dearman pairing who were hoping for a return to Oz were instead treated to a performance of ‘In His Eyes’ from Jekyll and Hyde. The Queens Of Green gave their all and proved once again that pink goes exceptionally good with green (demonstrated yet again later by a group version of ‘The Wizard and I’ with all three Elphabas…Elphabi? Discuss).
Personally I’d have to give the gold star of the evening to Louise, whose three solos were all outstanding. The beauty of her soprano voice in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sounded incredible with Cadogan Hall’s fantastic acoustics. The heartbreak (before the belting) of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, giving her just cause to go round to Anne Hathaway’s house and take the Oscar off her. And the tenderness (before yet more belting) of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ from Waitress, coming in London in 2019 (someone cast her NOW). I swear I heard 900 hearts collectively break as she got to the end of the song, and she herself was wiping tears away. It was a flawless performance.
The concert ended on a group rendition of ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen, using the new Broadway ending to the song rather than the Idina version from the film (and the fact that I know that as a 37-year-old man says way more about than it really should). It had the whole audience on their feet as the ladies took their bows and bid us all goodnight, bringing me to the first of only 2 negatives – I really feel there should’ve been an encore. The audience was lapping up this concert and were clearly dying for more. When the ladies came back on stage, took further bows, and then disappeared again, there was audible disappointment across the room.
My other negative is a purely selfish one – the noteable absence of Defying Gravity. It is one of the greatest trail-blazing empowering female anthems out there, and it should’ve featured in the setlist, because let’s face it, it’s awesome.
In a world where anyone off the street with a computer can create a number one single with arguably minimal talent, the concert was a shining example of what true singing is, exquisite combinations of technique, emotion and power. It was undeniable proof that the greatest voices in the world are those found in musical theatre, and we are lucky to have them. Listening to them is a privilege. You can keep your auto-tuned pop stars. I’d rather have these leading ladies any time.
Reviewed by Rob Bartley
Act 1 – 20s to 60s
Anything Goes – group
Can’t Help Loving Dat Man Of Mine – Alexia
Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered – Ria
Rodgers & Hammerstein section:
I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No – Rachel
I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair – Alexia
Shall We Dance – Ria
You’ll Never Walk Alone – Louise
Rose’s Turn – Ria
As Long As Needs Me – Rachel
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever – Rachel
Big Spender – group
Act 2 – 70s to today
Nowadays – Rachel and Alexia
Home – Alexia
I Dreamed A Dream – Louise
I know Him so well – Rachel and Ria
With One Look – Ria
In His Eyes – Louise and Rachel
Take Me Or Leave Me – Louise and Alexia
The Wizard And I – Louise, Rachel and Alexia
She Used To Be Mine – Louise
Let It Go – group
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