Anne Reid: In a New Key [St James Theatre]

In a New Key
A cabaret with songs and lyrics by Arthur Freed, Al Goodhart, Al Hoffman, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Richard Lewine, Arnold Horwitz, Don McLean, Cole Porter, Henry Mancini, Charles Zwar, Myles Rudge, Jerry Herman, Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Fred Ebb, John Kander, Sandy Wilson, Amanda McBroom, Gordon Hunt, Billy Joel, Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Diana Morgan, Robert MacDermot, Geoffrey Wright, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Marvin Hamlisch, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and Frank Loesser

Anne Reid (singer) & Stuart Hutchinson (musical director & piano)

Reviewed by: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 17 November, 2012
Venue: St James Theatre, Victoria, London SW1

At one point during her stunning debut cabaret performance, Anne Reid expresses the wish that she had done it earlier. She is a versatile actress, from being electrocuted by a hair-dryer in the early days of Coronation Street, to many roles on television, stage and screen. It was quite late in Reid’s career when she branched out into musicals, with roles in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Royal Opera House and Cole Porter’s Out of This World in Chichester. Her voice is not that of a belter – she is more Mary Martin than Ethel Merman – but it is sweetly melodic and, in the new, wood-panelled setting of the svelte Studio in the St James Theatre, with its fine sightlines and superb acoustics, one can hear every word and see every gesture. Reid’s act (which the actress performed for two nights only) is so polished, it is amazing to realise that this is her first full performance as a cabaret entertainer (she had honed her technique by performing at parties and for friends).

Her timing is the equal of any stand-up comic. One minute she is telling tales about the vagaries of touring, meeting the royal family, playing in Doctor Who with David Tennant, or describing the eccentricities of performers (including a hilarious altercation between Dora Bryan and Thora Hird), and then coaxing tears with her rendition of ‘Errol Flynn’, Amanda McBroom’s heartbreaking ballad inspired by the life of her father, the ‘B’-movie actor David Bruce. Both McBroom and Barbara Cook have made peerless versions of the song; Reid gives it an introspective, tenderly sincere rendition that can stand beside theirs.

She pleasingly explores that most lamented of theatrical forms, the intimate revue, with numbers like ‘I’m in love with a robot’, written by Charles Zwar and Myles Rudge for Hermione Gingold, who introduced it in Sticks and Stones (1956). Reid is attired in a chic, black smock-like dress, admitting that her early ambition to be a ballet dancer had been scuppered by her figure, such mischievous self-deprecation a salient ingredient of her strong rapport with the audience. She also has a splendid accompanist in Stuart Hutchinson, who provides some beguiling vocal harmony on such numbers as ‘Transatlantic lullaby’ (from The Gate Revue, 1939) and the catchy, optimistic ditty of a lady on the way to meet her ‘Gentleman friend’, written by Richard Lewine and Albert Horwitz for the New York revue, Make Mine Manhattan (1947).

Other rarely heard Broadway gems include ‘The very next man’ from Fiorello (Bock & Harnick, 1959), ‘The life of the party’ from The Happy Time (Kander & Ebb, 1968) and ‘More I cannot wish you’ from Guys and Dolls (Frank Loesser, 1950). When Reid slips into a standard, her taste is impeccable (Kern & Fields’s ‘The way you look tonight’, Cole Porter’s ‘What is this thing called love?’, Carmichael & Mercer’s ‘Skylark’). Reid also scores a coup with songs by Sondheim, including the comic ‘Pour le sport’ from his early musical, Saturday Night, ‘No time at all’, cut from the same show, and a true rarity, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’, from an abandoned musical of 1956 called The Last Resorts.

Anne Reid need not change a thing in this beautifully crafted programme. She may be a late starter, but if she wants to (and she was certainly enjoying the evening as much as the audience) there is every indication that she will be a major attraction on the cabaret circuit.

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