Updated: May 14
Review by Sam Waite
Christina Bianco – singer, actor, comedian, impressionist, viral sensation, dog person – wears many hats in her work and in her life. Just ask her husband, she tells us during this new concert series. Performed at the Menier Chocolate Factory, In Divine Company finds Bianco joined on stage only by musical director Ryan MacKenzie, and the many voices she recreates. Having gained much of her popularity after a video of her performing Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while impersonating various musical theatre and pop divas gained widespread attention, Bianco is more than willing to continue this while revealing layers of herself.
After opening the show with her own glorious vocals on “I Love Being Here with You” she explains her work as a musical impressionist. This moves seamlessly into a short rendition of “I’m Every Woman” (they’re all in her, you see!) punctuated by brief interludes from the likes of Britney (“Oops!... I Did It Again”) and Alanis (“You Oughta Know”) before segueing into an origin story about imitating cartoons as a child, finishing the number with a burst of Snow White’s “Whistle While You Work”.
MacKenzie, silent by virtue of being without a microphone (his own choice), still carries off an easy, breezy chemistry with Bianco. In key moments where the two must quickly prepare for an unexpected impression, they seem to be reading each other’s minds, and she gazes over to him with such warmth and affection that their friendship is apparent from the start. Early on, she assures the crowd that she will get him to speak into the mic eventually, and there’s a real sense of comradery and collaboration that sells his being in on and not entirely against this scheming.
Bianco’s mastery of impressions weaves in and out of this residency, both in spoken and sung moments. Liza Minelli, a favourite of Christina’s, rears her head both in reference and in impersonation – after delighting the crowd with different diva impressions during a performance of Cabaret’s title number, she nods to her recent and upcoming runs in the recreation of Liza with a Z with a new take, with her own name, on that show’s own titular piece. Finally, her Liza impression gets a short song of her own, a hilarious and stirring I Cain’t Say Sofrom Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
A diversion comes towards the end of act one, when a collection of couplets by A. A. Milne, If I Were King, with a handful of new additions by Ms Bianco herself, is read aloud by some of her spoken impersonations. Particular highlights from this parade of voices include The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’s Midge, to whom Bianco (herself a fast-talking, excitable New Yorker) happily compares herself, a pretty decent (she herself admits to shakiness on this one) Cheryl, a Sarah Jessica Parker who is just honoured to have been picked by the audience, and a riff on Jennifer Aniston’s ability to seem entirely baffled by whatever is said to her.
The evening is littered with references to Christina Bianco’s illustrious and ongoing career, and she is somehow able to tell us about these achievements with a balance of genuine pride and gentle, unassuming grace that keeps it from being one giant brag. She closes the first act with a stunning, jazzy take on “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” as a nod to her runs, both past and near-future, as Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, as well as including numbers from the aforementioned Liza with a Z and her run in the Parisian production of Funny Girl in the second. She also takes us back to an earlier stage of her career, with snippets from numbers she performed in Forbidden Broadway, in which she featured stateside and in the West End.
Willingness to play around with and test her skills, as well as the capabilities of pianist-cum-partner in crime MacKenzie, come to the forefront when a trio of Eurovision hits are performed as singers selected by the audience seconds beforehand. You’ve probably never heard No Doubt era Gwen Stefani’s take on “Boom Bang-a-Bang” but the swagger and Cali-girl inflections were immediate and captivating. Later, a series of Bondthemes are covered in the voices of their original singers, Bianco having admitted to her success as an impressionist partly relying on the fact that these people have never really sung any of the material she performs as them. Her Billie Eilish may be questionable, but even when face to face with the original her Shirley Bassey is uncanny!
Lighting designer Emma Chapman also gets to finally have some fun when the set ends to its finale. As Sunset Boulevard’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye” begins, Bianco is lit in a muted red, the stage around her lost in complete darkness, and a sense of comical drama takes hold as the circling light casts her face into differing directions of shadow and focus. The limits of a concert setting haven’t stopped Chapman from being allowed a moment to shine, perhaps a nod to the genuine appreciation Bianco showed for all involved in the creation of this show.
Despite closing the main set with another diva piece, she bookends the number as herself, and it is clear throughout the evening that Christina Bianco herself, despite the esteemed company she brings to life, is herself the greatest star. In those moment where she is merely herself, she proves to be more than enough to carry a show on her own merit – her voice and its versatility are perhaps even more impressive when singing “I’m The Greatest” star as her interpretation of Fanny Bryce, or closing the show with a touching tribute to Carol Burnett’s birthday and legacy as a quirky, funny, but deeply sentimental performer.
Captivating, hysterical, and bursting with genuine heart, In Divine Company is an evening of entertainment highlighting some of the many gifts of an extraordinary talent. Christina Bianco is a charming and instantly comforting presence, and the delight and awe in the audience was readily apparent throughout a show that, at two hours long, somehow felt both perfectly paced and as if it could easily have gone on all night. Bianco is, in a word, heavenly.
Christina Bianco – In Divine Company plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until May 20th.
For tickets and information visit https://www.menierchocolatefactory.com/tickets/christina-bianco-in-divine-company/
- “Any Place I Hang My Hat” (Peggy Lee)
- “I’m Every Woman” (Chaka Khan)
- “Oops!... I Did It Again” (Britney Spears)
- “Whenever, Wherever” (Shakira)
- “You Oughta Know” (Alanis Morissette)
- “Whistle While You Work” (Snow White)
- “Hot Stuff” (Donna Summer) (as Dame Julie Andrews)
- “Cabaret” (Kander & Ebb) (as Various Divas)
- “Liza with a Z (Christina with an A)” (Liza Minnelli)
- “I Cain’t Say No” (Rogers & Hammerstein) (as Liza Minnelli)
- “I Only Have Eyes For You” (Harry Warren & Al Dubin)
- “If I Were King” (A. A. Milne) (Poetry, read by Various Celebrities)
- Eurovision Medley (Impressions Selected by the Audience)
- “Making Your Mind Up” (Bucks Fizz)
- “Space Man” (Sam Ryder)
- “Boom Bang-a-Bang” (Lulu)
- “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” (The Wizard of Oz)
- “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home” (Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer)
- Forbidden Broadway medley
- “See Me On a Monday” (parodying Bernadette Peters)
- “Glitter and be Glib” (parodying Kristin Chenoweth)
- “Let It Blow” (parodying Idina Menzel)
- “I’m The Greatest Star” (Merrill & Styne)
- “The Winner Takes It All” (ABBA) (as Edith Piaf)
- James Bond medley
- “Diamonds Are Forever” (as Shirley Bassey)
- “No Time To Die” (as Billie Eilish)
- “Nobody Does It Better” (as Carly Simon)
- “Skyfall” (as Adele)
- “Goldfinger” (as Shirley Bassey)
- “And The World Goes Round” (Kander & Ebb)
- “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black & Christopher Hampton) (as Various Divas)
- “So Long” (Joe Hamilton) – in honour of Carol Burnett’s birthday