Written by: Michael Darvell
You get no new cabaret venues for years and then three come along at once offering a new wave of sophisticated London rooms.
Since the demise of Pizza on the Park and the Pigalle, central London has been deprived of an element of its nightlife that was for years one of its essentials. Way back when, visitors to the West End could enjoy a reasonably inexpensive night at The Talk of the Town (formerly and now the Hippodrome again), or The London Room in Drury Lane, the Café Royal’s Green Room and any number of smaller places – Stork Club, Quaglino’s, L’Hirondelle, The Savoy, The Ritz – all of which fielded cabaret shows.
Gradually, though, this aspect of London nightlife petered out and we were left with Pizza on the Park (by Hyde Park Corner) and Jermyn Street Theatre. Both of these intimate venues mounted high-profile cabaret seasons by the best of US artists such as Julie Wilson, Karen Akers, K. T. Sullivan, Maude Maggart and Steve Ross. But, as all good things generally come to an end, Pizza on the Park closed down, Jermyn Street Theatre now concentrates on plays and musicals, while even its near-neighbour, the Pigalle, had a short but merry life, attracting stars of the magnitude of Eartha Kitt; but then it shut and remains empty. The only saving grace was Pizza on the Park which, after closing in Knightsbridge, resurfaced and continued its broad music policy at The Pheasantry in King’s Road, Chelsea.
The same ‘cabaret predicament’ occurred in New York City where the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel closed and the same is about to happen to Michael Feinstein’s club at Loew’s Regency Hotel, although he plans to move elsewhere. The programme until the end of this year, 2012, includes Betty Buckley, Sue Raney, Peter Gallagher, Bill Charlap, Tommy Tune, with Feinstein himself and Christine Ebersole during December. Café Carlyle carries on Woody Allen (every Monday until 17 December), Andrea Marcovicci during October, John Pizzarelli in November and Steve Tyrell for December. And earlier this year 54 Below opened for cabaret in the basement of the famous/notorious Studio 54, starting with Patti LuPone. So, the current cabaret score is New York 3: London 1.
Or it was… because a new dawn has just broken for cabaret again in London. Three new cabaret rooms have just opened. The St James Theatre at Victoria is on the site of the old Westminster Theatre, home for many years of productions by Moral Rearmament. There’s a new building with a main stage and a studio theatre, the latter offering a mixture of music, cabaret, comedy and other entertainments, including Lenny Henry, Morgan Mackintosh, Carol Grimes, Sharon D. Clarke, Tim Flavin, Hal Cruttenden, Jessica Fostekew, Peter Straker and actress Anne Reid in her solo show.
The Hippodrome on Charing Cross Road is now officially called the Hippodrome Casino. But it also has the Matcham Room, named after the building’s famous architect Frank Matcham, where artists of the calibre of Kerry Ellis and Judy Kuhn have already played, to be followed by Stephanie Powers, Anthony Strong, The Jive Aces and Suzi Quatro. The room seats 180 covers at tables, in booths and in circle-seating on the upper level.
Cabaret and jazz are now also being presented at Crazy Coqs in the newly-opened Brasserie Zédel in Sherwood Street, just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus. It is already up and running with John Standing doing his Cole Porter cabaret. The future programme is: for October, Clive Rowe (15-20); Karen Akers sings Cole Porter (30-3 November); the rest of November is Issy van Randwyck (6-10); Rosie Ashe sings Ethel Merman (13-17); Steve Tormé (19-24); Karen Oberlin sings Doris Day (27-1 December); and December featuring K. T. Sullivan Remembering Mabel Mercer (4-8); K. T. Sullivan & Steve Ross Together with Music (11-15); and Steve Ross By Myself (18-22).
It looks as if cabaret in London is once again about to blossom, back where it belongs.
- St James Theatre – Bookings on 0844 264 2140
- Hippodrome – 020 7769 8888
- Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel – 020 7734 4888