A Love Letter To Dan
The Novello Theatre, Sunday 16th July 2006
Review by Emma Shane
© July 2006
The show opens, at 19:00, with The Two Mikeís, pianists Michael Reed and Mike Dixon, taking their places and striking up the Overture To Mr Cinders. Then we have introductory speaker Stephanie Sinclaire (Crawford), followed by Katherine Kastin; who acquitted themselves like real theatrical pros.
Spread A Little Happiness, sung by Denis Lawson
is the first number of the evening. He sings adequately, though I was not too
such about The Mikesís arrangement, it seemed rather slow, especially right at
the beginning of a gala, when you want something to get things going. The
evening picked up tempo with Every Moment, sung and danced with
delightful enthusiasm by Diana Martin and
Without any introduction the stage is cleared for the re-entry of Denis Lawson, now clad in a jungle explorerís sort of outfit, for On The Amazon. A number which out of context is totally silly. Itís funny, but it makes no sense whatsoever. Denis, looking very odd, does it with great enthusiasm, but I think it could have benefited from a but of scene setting narration. Nevertheless, I canít think why The Muppets never got hold of this ridiculous number, it might have suited their peculiar brand of humour.
At the back of the stage is a large screen, on which at various points in the evening excerpts from a documentary about Dan Crawford are flashed up, including interviews with all sorts of people (Celia Imrie, Joanna Lumley, Samuel West, and Victoria Wood amongst others). At this particular moment itís an excerpt of Janie Dee describing how she asked Dan why he hadnít chosen her for a particular job, and he told her because she needed to be more consistent. At which, with a burst of I Cainít Say No, Janie herself enters, from top stage left. She stops, leans against a piano,tells us that it was very hard to say no to Dan, and since then sheís really tried to be more consistent in her work, and promptly launches into Look To The Rainbow. This song really suits her talents. She should sing Yip Harburgís lyrics more often, because she does them with such sincerity and feeling. One tends to think of Janie Dee as playing rather light fluffy characters, but thereís much more to her than that, as it obvious by her handling or Harburgís lyrics.
Enter Peter Reeves with the English translations of a couple of French music-hall-like songs, a genre he obviously has a real talent for. The first of these numbers Belly Buttons (all about a man who wanted to see the belly-button of a policemanís wife) is hilarious, again I canít think why The Muppets never got hold of this in their music-hall excerpts, it might well have suited them. Anyway, Peter Reeves does a splendid job with it. He also does a good job with You Donít See The Time Pass Away, though I did not think that to be as great a song.
The Boy From is given a new slant, by having Anna Nicholas sing it in what I think is a Spanish accent, at any rate in slightly broken English. It was certainly an interesting take, and she sang it quite good. The only problem is, that the incomparable Millicent Martin performed this song on this very stage less than two months ago, and thatís just too tough an act to follow.
Next up, something of a surprising performance. Sally Ann Triplett singing Once You Loose Your Heart. Sorry did I say singing? Performing would be a more accurate description; as this is the best performance I have ever seen Sal (as her fans call her) give in a gala. For once it was up to the high standard of her performances in actual stage musicals. Was she well directed or what? Like a good musical-theatre actress she looked straight ahead to the back wall, with the result that she succeeded in engaging the whole audience and holding them (at least while she was on stage doing her number).
Linda Marlowe takes the narratorís stand, which is position exactly where youíd expect at bottom stage right (like it was for the SBSBS 30th Anniversary Gala); to tell a story about the time she had some friends round to lunch, on her birthday, but got rung up by Dan asking her if she would appear in a lunchtime play at The Kings Head, called Dynamo, in which she would enact being torched, by being strapped naked onto a dynamo on stage. She thought it a bit avant-garde for her, but after Dan kept her talking on the phone for forty five minuets, she realised she was never going to get back to her lunch party unless she agreed to do that show, so she did.
Next up, something of a star turn from Peter Straker, with two songs. First was Jackie, not a song I would normally care much for. However, Peter did perform it awfully well, with a lot of conviction. I was much less enamoured of Carousel, it seemed to be in the style of Kander & Ebb, but not as good as their work. Nevertheless, Peter Straker is a fine singer, who I think is well worth seeing. I wonder if heís ever done G&S? (I think he could be rather fun doing that?).
On to one of the highlights of the entire evening. Enter Jessica Martin from bottom stage right, dressed in a stunning sky blue evening frock. Well actually she entered, with a French accent, in the character of Veronique Raymond (from her one woman show Veronique A Life Long Cult). Then quick as a lighting flash, on announcing that she was now presenting her tribute to Betty Hutton, she switched both accent and characters, to become, the all American, Trudy from A Saint She Ainít, singing (the song written for her) Manitowoc. That Dick Vosburgh & Denis King musical premiered at The Kings Head, with Jessica as Trudy. Tonight she is absolutely stunning. She even got the stage left pianist to portray Willouby, and lift her up. Sheís such a great interpreter of Dick Vosburghís lyrics anyway.† The whole number was just super. Really a showstopper!
It was really unfair on Jon Lee that his performance of Iím On A See Saw had to follow Jessicaís tour de force. It was going to take a while for the audience to calm down, and this number may have been decent, but it was rather eclipsed by the previous one.
The audience had more or less got over Jessicaís showstopper, by the time Denis Lawson made his third appearance, this time to sing Someone To Fall Back On. So that as long as he was on stage singing, he held the audience; although ultimately the number was not particularly memorable.
The next number, I Want A Boy was a serious attempt to bring the backroom of the pub theatre of yesteryear† into the West End; for John Barr and Dave Lynn performed in drag. Did it work? Well seeing as this was a gala for The Kings Head (a fringe theatre which is still the backroom of a pub) yes. Unlike some galas, this was a nice unpretentious evening, so yes, that was ok. It did kind of suit the occasion.
The stage right pianist (who is himself something of a composer) introduced the next section, a medley from Bless The Bride, performed mostly by Jan Hartley and Jack Rebaldi. I Was Never Kissed Before was a particularly good number, with a matching performance by Jan Hartley. Sheís got a great voice.† This Is My Lovely Day followed on nicely, also suiting Janís talents well. Finally they were joined by Alan Tompson, Paul Tate and the convincing graceful Arts Ed seven (Nathalie Clarke, Will Stokes, Will Rogers, Buchi Osuji, Nathalie Millet, Albey Brookes, and, Hanelle Van Wyk ) as Jack Rebaldi them all in Ma Belle Marguerite. I was very impressed by the excerpts from the Bless The Bride score, and if any opera company is looking for something Ďlightí to do, they might want to consider giving this a go, as long as they had singers who were good at cross-over (and an MD who knew to tell them when to do a bit as cross over and when they might use their operatic voices).
One thing which really gives a gala something extra is a comic surprise
to liven things up. Something unexpected, daring, and even a little bit
outrageous. However, one has to be careful. It also needs to be appropriate to
the occasion, and must not go too far, or else it will become silly and
inappropriate, and thatís a fine fine line. It is not just any performer
who could be trusted to provide this sort of OTT element in a
If Jessica had been a hard act to follow, Henry was well nigh impossible. I donít really remember if Morgan Crowley even appeared to sing Oh How I Loved You. If he did the appearance was forgettable, coming hot on the heels of Henryís meshugge antics.
Dan Crawfordís mother Edna Crawford is introduced to make a speech. She enters fiddling with an American flag in her hands. Despite finding the microphone difficult to use, she nevertheless makes a funny speech, and well I think the audience all appreciated her coming over, and coming on stage to appear at tonightís gala.
Act 1 is brought to a close by a selection of the assembled company, namely the majority of Act 1ís performers singing Spread A Little Happiness, with a better arrangement than that number had had at the opening.
Act 2 opens with The Two Mikes playing the Overture To Wonderful Town.
They really know how to play Bernstein in a lush exciting manner. Of course
itís also possible that
Lesley Joseph enters bottom stage right to take the narratorís
stand. She is a charismatic performer. I think that people do not always
realise that there is much more to her than just Dorian in Birds of A
Feather. After an amusing apology for wearing odd shoes (a result of
rushing out of the house without her glasses on, and so not noticing which shoes
she had picked up); she reads a very funny speech by Maureen Lipman (who
was unavailable to appear tonight). Lesley first explains that she and Maureen
had appeared together at The Kings Head in
With Maureen being unavailable, Why O Why Ohio is tonight performed by Louise Gold (as Ruth), and, Nicola Keen (as Eileen). Iím not entirely sure what connection, if any, either of them, especially Louise, have with The Kings Head; but theyíre good people to have in a gala. They sit on stools front centre of the stage to sing the chorus (Louise on stage right, Nicola stage left), but for the spoken verses, Louise leaps up to her feet as she speaks, followed by Nicola, and both stand beside their stools to stage right for the rest of the verse, returning to sit down for the chorus, this happens twice (two verses sandwiched between three choruses). Nicola wore a simple greyish/off-white evening frock While Louise wore her smart black evening trousers (that have a low cut top as part of them), with her black semi-transparent loose top over it. It seems to be her chosen outfit for this sort of thing, she wore for much of the Side By Side By Sondheim 30th Anniversary Gala. Iím too not sure that top really suited the character she was playing (a young lady journalist?), but she seems to like it, and in galas well anything goes costume wise. This song is very much a double act, and our two performers complemented each otherís talents, or should that be cancelled out each otherís difficulties? Nicola sings well, though her acting was well ... alright. Meanwhile Louise is vice versa, acting brilliantly, but, unusually for her, her singing really did not come across too well. Iíve never heard her struggle as much as that before. Was the song too low even for her wide range, or was it poor sound design or what? The former seems the most likely. Fortunately trusty Louise is not just a singer, she is also a splendid actress, and (as she usually does on the rare occasions when her singing isnít quite up to scratch) she makes up for it with her spot on acting. As in the Side By Side By Sondheim 30th Anniversary Gala (also at this theatre) she is wonderfully inclusive, playing to the whole house, looking all round the auditorium, including up, so that no matter where you are seated you feel part of the action. Being a good actress, she gets totally into character and never stops acting. What is more she acts with her whole body, especially her face, and clever left-hand. (Louise Gold has more talent in her left-hand than some performers have in their whole body). Itís good to see her in a gala. The English Muppet is always an asset to this sort of thing. But why oh why was she trying to sing something so low? Still sheís a game thing, and she canít Ďarf act.
We come to a medley from Kurt Weillís One Touch Of Venus. Trying to do a role (from a not often done show) that has already been associated with: Mary Martin (original Broadway cast), Louise Gold (two Lost Musicals productions), Paige OíHara (BBC Radio), and, Melissa Errico (Studio cast album) is no mean feet, so Kim Medcalf really acquits herself rather well singing Iím A Stranger Here Myself, with a passing vocal similarity to Paige OíHara. Meanwhile Peter Landís West Wind is more on a par with Ethan Freeman than Peter Gale. While Michael Gyngell proves to be a good Rodney when he joins Kim for Speak Low. The section concludes with a jolly odd arrangement of The Trouble With Women, performed by: Mark White, Michael Gyngell, Paul Tate, Peter Land, and, Kim Medcalf. Well itís odd if you are familiar with the original. As an out of context performance it is ok, but I thought this was supposed to be in the context in which it was done at The Kings Head. Hence it is jolly but odd.
Anita Dobson, in a rather nice sparkling red, white (and either silver or gold) frock takes the narratorís stand to very nicely introduce the rather shy Ann Pinnington. Ann gives her little speech. Then Anita gets to introduce her own husband Brian May who is accompanying on his guitar Mazz Murray. That introduction could have sounded corny, but actually it doesnít, because Anita comes across as so totally sincere (even though her tone of voice suggests that she is also aware she could sound corny).
I felt that Who Wants To Live Forever, and, These Are The Days Of Our Lives were over microphoned. If you like this sort of thing, then I should say this is a very thrilling moment in the gala. But unfortunately musically it is not really to my taste; a lady sitting in my row described the two songs as ďlyrically challengedĒ. However, it is rather a coup for The Kings Head gala, and should hopefully have been a big box-office draw especially given what a well known musician Brian May is; and he does happen to be a rather talented guitar player.
Anita returns (without Ann Ė who was credited in the programme) to introduce the next section, a collection of Vivian Ellisís revue songs.
A Fountain Pen For Christmas is a fine underrated song. However, I was not quite sure if it was meant to be dirty. Nicola Keen, now wearing a dowdy long skirt and cardigan generally sang well, however her comic timing was not quite so good. But then very few performers get a chance to learn the art of comic timing properly.
Thelma Ruby is rather more experienced in these things, and tackled Small Abode, perhaps the best known song in this set, with her usual skill. Given that she is getting on a bit she actually did a pretty terrific job. However, one does have to ask whether the song would still make sense if one were unaware of the Jewish history of Hampstead NW3? Fortunately Thelma sensibly adds an extra line after ďI never had margarineĒ to make it clearer, ďunless it was kosherĒ.
The highlight of this set, though, is Why Do They Call Me Lilly? It is a song with a lot of meaning and relevance, and one whose sentiments never age. In any era there will always be children given the most peculiar names, or names which most definitely do not fit them. So yes itís a great song; and it is given an absolutely brilliant performance by Katherine Kastin.
Once again showstoppers are hard to follow. In addition the evening was beginning to drag. I donít really remember much about Fiona Sinnottís performance of Little Boat, or Nicola Keenís third and final number The Silent Heart. Did they do them? I think they did, but I canít be certain.
Things livened up as Angela Richards stumps on stage, looking
like a bit of a battle-axe (but only a bit of one). ďThe nameís FieldsĒ she
barks, by way of what was supposed to introduce a medley, or should that be
excerpt, from the revue Dorothy Fields Forever. Without a
narrator to set the scene the audience had to figure that out on their own.
Angela was soon joined by the ever reliable and ever useful Robert Meadmore,
along with Rebecca Lock, who also seems to be proving herself to be a
By now it was getting late, a few of the audience even started to leave,
but there was still one more set before the finale, Noel Coward; whose
work I am not that keen on anyway, although there were some good performances.
This section was introduced by Sheridan Morely and Patricia Hodge;
At long last into the finale. Those members of the company who are still present, come on stage to sing Danny Boy with great sincerity. Followed by that rousing Irving Berlin classic Thereís No Business Like Show Business. I think it was intended to be much more rousing than it actually was, given that the lyrics for both numbers were printed in the programme. But by now it was so late, that some of the cast (including: Anita Dobson, Louise Gold, Jessica Martin, and, Brian May) had already left. And I for one am not surprised. Performers have trains to catch too, and no doubt some of them have to work tomorrow, having given up their night off to do the gala. Anyway, for the remnants of the cast and audience, who hung on to the bitter end, it finally concluded at about 22:45. Three and three quarter hours including the interval.
It was a great show, nicely unpretentious. There were many fine
performances, too many to pick out a lot of individuals, though it must be said
that Arts Ed once again showed how it tends to turn out convincing and
very graceful musical theatre actors. Of the star turns some of the
performances were truly amazing. Highlights include: Katherine Kastin
with the timeless Why Do They Call Me Lilly; Jessica Martinís