Satin Doll: Janie Dee at The Crazy Coqs

Satin Doll
A cabaret with songs by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer, Fred Ahlert, Joe Young, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Erroll Garner, Johnny Burke, Tom Lehrer, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Richard Sisson, Warren Wills, Ron Miller, Michael Masser, Tom Eyen, Harry Kreiger, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach, and Jerry Herman

Janie Dee (singer) & Ben Atkinson (piano)


Reviewed by: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 22 January, 2013
Venue: The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly Circus, London

Janie Dee. Photograph: Marcos BevilacquaJanie Dee has starred not only in lavish musicals and hit comedies, but has also been an interpreter of Harold Pinter much favoured by the playwright. She has done cabaret before, but this is a brand-new programme, hard on the heels of her triumph in Hello, Dolly!. Satin Doll is also the first song she sang as she weaved her way through The Crazy Coqs room with no introduction.

She delivered a teasing version of the Ellington-Strayhorn-Mercer number as she sidled to the stage in a sensational black satin dress redolent of the Jean Louis creation for Rita Hayworth in the film Gilda. Dee’s wide-ranging voice is particularly effective in the lower registers, where it has a seductive huskiness, and she occasionally tosses her shock of hair in provocative Hayworth fashion. After Dee’s intimate version of ‘I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter’, Dee’s talented pianist, Ben Atkinson, launched into one of those distinctive vamps that heralds a Kander & Ebb number, in this case the neglected ‘There goes the ball game’, introduced by Liza Minnelli in the film New York, New York. It signalled that Dee’s selection of material was going to be choice.

A fourth song, Erroll Garner and Johnny Burke’s ‘Misty’ preceded Dee’s first verbal contact, which really should have come sooner, for it established rapport with the audience and displaced the slight air of detachment. After expressing her bemusement at the room’s name, she told how the venue’s booker of acts, Ruth Leon, had convinced her that she should devise a new cabaret act for her debut there, and how rarely she says “no”, cueing a potent rendition of more Kander & Ebb, their life-affirming song, ‘Yes’, from 70, Girls, 70 (“Don’t say why, say why not”) which brought the act thrillingly to life. It’s a joyous number to which Dee did total justice, and from that moment the room was hers.

She produced a soaring comic soprano and very British accent for Tom Lehrer’s ‘Poisoning pigeons in the park’, and was plaintively touching in Kit and the Widow’s wistful account of a drive-in love affair, ‘Casablanca’. It was “six degrees of separation” time when she told of the nightclub where she sang as a girl, The Atlantic Bar and Grill, which occupied the space where The Crazy Coqs now stands (she was in the chorus of Cabaret, playing at the Palace at the time). One of the club’s owners was Jeremy Hunt, who now co-owns The Crazy Coqs.

After changing into an outfit crowned by a top hat for the song, ‘I’m changing’ from Dream Girls, Dee sang Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s ‘Come rain or come shine’, followed by a matter-of-fact but remarkably moving version of Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’, a contender for one of the best popular songs ever written. Other selections included ‘The piano player’s mine’ by Australian composer Warren Wills, and another Kander & Ebb ballad, ‘A quiet thing’ – one would love to see her doing an album devoted to this team. ‘A quiet thing’ followed her account of spending last Christmas with her large family despite several traumatic setbacks. Janie Dee’s father had always wanted her to play Dolly Levi and this winter she did. It was as Dolly that she ended her fine act with the character’s jolly final number, ‘So long, dearie’.

  • Janie Dee is at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 until Saturday 26 January 2013
  • Bookings 020 7734 4888
  • www.crazycoqs.com

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