I’ve always seen musical theatre, or theatre in general really, as an idea of escapism. It’s one of the only situations we have left in the world where we can switch off our phones and rely purely on what’s on stage in front of us, as a way of moving away from our troubles outside of the auditorium and treat it, in some way, as a form of therapy. This is channelled through the songs of Julie Andrews in What Would Julie Do? at the Pheasantry, Chelsea.
The cabaret evening not only showed great range in repertoire but also emotional range, for the profits from the show would be going to Samaritans. In the wake of mental health issues becoming more public in the press this week with the likes of Prince William and Prince Harry encouraging young people to be more open in discussing these issues, this evening couldn’t have been performed at a better time. The environment was warm and open to all, and felt more like a night in with friends rather than a professional performance, in the sense of how comfortable you felt watching some of the best West End performers along with some certain future leading ladies talk openly and humorously to their spectators.
Julie Andrews is seen as an inspiration to the show in its combination of her musical theatre songs along with some self-help and advice to the audience. Rosie Williamson has produced a great idea for a show, with good storytelling ability and nice characterisation in her ballads. Ciara Power, in particular, resonated some certain stylistic characteristics that resembled of Julie. Even not performing and sitting in the back, she was well poised with the look and sound of pure class, vocally bang on tune and with immaculate diction, particularly in some of her faster numbers.
Headlining the evening was David O’Mahony of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical fame. Showcasing his fantastic vocal range, particularly his tenor belt, he also makes the most moving around the cramped stage with conviction. Having never seen Beautiful, it was a treat to see him perform some of his solo numbers in a more intimate setting, along with performing what seems to be the musical theatre song choice for auditions and cabaret evenings — ‘Waving Through A Window’ from Dear Evan Hansen. Having heard this numerous times now, what made David’s performance original was the knowledge of his personal context with his connection to Samaritans, adding a more sensitive level to the song. He also performed a duet with the incomparable Dev Joshi – a natural showgirl with an incredibly likeable stage presence and oozing with charisma. She can do cabaret very well, but you can tell that she has the voice and projection big enough to perform in larger auditoriums.
These modern interpretations of Julie Andrews classics, with such range in emotion, context and tempo, was what made What Would Julie Do? a really pleasant evening. If you’re looking for some self-help and positivity in your life, look no further than to this cabaret gem.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly