Great Dames [Christine Pedi at Jermyn Street Theatre]

Great Dames
Songs about and made famous by the great ladies of the stage, screen and beyond, with music and lyrics by Richard & Robert Sherman, Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe, Cole Porter, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Larry Grossman & Hal Hackady, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane, Fred Heatherton, Jule Styne, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Jay Livingston & Ray Evans, Harry Warren & Johnny Mercer, Freddie Ferren & Dino Fekaris, and Albert von Tilzer & Jack Norworth

Christine Pedi (singer)
Matthew Ward (Musical director & piano)

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 7 June, 2009
Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1

The urge to imitate is strong. Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe used multiple voices in their crazy radio scripts. Sellers was a superb mimic and almost never used his own voice, preferring to hide behind others. Mike Yarwood started the trend of imitating politicians and others which led to Rory Bremner and Alistair McGowan; Steve Nallon even made a career out of imitating Margaret Thatcher.

In her “Great Dames” act Christine Pedi tackles the ladies of the musical stage and the cinema. Pedi has appeared before at Jermyn Street in “Forbidden Broadway”, the show that sends up both the best and the worst of American musicals, and proved what a brilliant mimic she is. The first film Christine saw was “Mary Poppins”, the cue for her to bring on Julie Andrews – not many performers ‘do’ the first lady of the musical stage – in songs from “Mary Poppins” and “My Fair Lady”. Then Pedi wonders what Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand and Patti Lupone might do to Lerner & Loewe’s show. She does spot-on imitations of them and, in particular, the grimly gurning mouth of Lupone.

One of Pedi’s favourite theatre scores is Kander & Ebb’s “Chicago”. Here are Angela Lansbury (sweet and genteel), Bernardette Peters (squeaky and cute) and Elaine Stritch (rasping) in some very funny and not-a-little-cruel imitations.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet until you see Pedi’s Streisand. Patriot that she is, as well as political activist, Christine starts on a typical Streisand arrangement of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, with big build-ups in a pretentious, souped-up arrangement of the great US baseball anthem, and then decides to do a UK version for our national sport, a tear-jerking arrangement of “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” at which one could die laughing.

Sometimes Pedi will sing a song straight just as herself – her voice is very good, particularly in the field of the romantic ballad, so we get the likes of “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Funny Girl”, plus a tribute to her mother in ‘Mama, a Rainbow’, from “Minnie’s Boys”, a musical based on the lives of the Marx Brothers.

However, it is comedy that Pedi enjoys most and she does a splendid take on the death by locomotive of Anna Karenina in a cod musical version by singing new words to ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe’ (from “The Harvey Girls”), quote: “Do you hear that whistle down the line…?” She also recalls seeing the great Eartha Kitt singing “I Will Survive” and pictures how she and others would do it: Kitt (smoochy and sexy), Ethel Merman (bright and breezy), Carol Channing (endearingly gauche), Bette Davis (gesticulating frantically) and Katharine Hepburn (shaking all over): another tears-of-laughter jerking performance.

Perhaps her finest moment is as Liza (what do you mean “Liza who?”?) and how everybody appears to be her best friend in a hilariously wired performance that is Miss Minnelli all over. In fact Pedi is more like Liza than she is herself.

An hour-an-a-half (no interval) in the company of the vastly talented Christine Pedi and the sympathetic Matthew Ward proves to be a real eye-opener on the absurdities of musical theatre and its perpetrators. She is still in love with the material and her impressions are really based on admiration. If you are feeling down, head for Jermyn Street where Christine will cheer you up with her tonic of a show. She’s a real Pedi-cure!

  • Great Dames is at Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1 until Sunday 21 June 2009
  • Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 4 p.m.
  • Tickets: 020 7287 2875
  • Jermyn Street Theatre

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