The gorgeous Crazy Coqs at Zedel is currently playing host to a series of concerts called "The Americans in London". I went along to two of these concerts in one evening to enjoy Londons gain as we borrow some Broadway royalty.
Lillias White is widely recognised as an incredible performer - the rightful winner of a Tony award, As part of this series, she is making her London cabaret debut, and the chance to see such a phenomenal talent in an intimate space was too hard to pass up. Accompanied on the piano by Billy Stritch (who would get his own show later that evening), what transpired was a quickfire 80 minutes of Lillias making her way through some of Broadways finest.
Lillias' legendary voice treated the audience to numbers from West Side Story and Funny Girl as well as roles she has become synonymous with. Having recently re-opened Chicago on Broadway as Mama Morton, her 'When You're Good To Mama' proved the versatility and talent she has at taking a well known song and making it her own. Hearing Lillias talk about her own story with Dreamgirls (she was the standby Effie in the original production in 1981 and then went on to play the role in 1987) so getting to witness her sing her favourite song from the song 'I Am Changing' was a real moment. The highlight of the evening came when Lillias reprised her role as Sonja for a showstopping rendition of 'Oldest Profession' from The Life, while a Sondheim tribute for closing number 'Somewhere' was suitably stunning.
Inbetween songs, Lillias proved she has a knack for storytelling, even if some of the jokes did fall flat on the evening - remember Brits can have a very different sense of humour! Things did go wrong with forgotten lines, a near miss accident and an awkward bit where Lillias decided to rearrange the stage to which Stritch hilariously commented "Rehearsals help a lot" but this was the first night of the series and only added to the charm.
Billy Stritch's headline show later in the evening couldn't have been more different as he took the microphone, while still accompanying himself on the piano, working his way through a series of numbers including 'Fly Me To The Moon' and his own Sondheim tribute in 'I've Got You To Lean On/Old Friend'. A lover of a medley, Stritch effortlessly incorporated multiple numbers in to many of his songs, with a Singin In The Rain medley creating a joyous singalong.
A more confident show overall, Stritch performed with ease as he charmed the audience and told stories about his own distinguished career. The highlight of his set was when he brought special guest Debbie Wileman on to the stage for the first in person performance of their duet 'Since You Left New York' - a song they recorded virtually in separate countries. Debbie then stayed on stage to channel her best Judy Garland for a spine-tingling rendition of 'I Could Go On Singing' which was potentially the greatest performance of the night, earning her the biggest standing ovation.
Two very different shows but both highly enjoyable. Having an opportunity to see two heavyweight performers who rarely come to these shores was too good an opportunity to miss, and one that I'm very glad I took. Brilliant vocals, great storytelling and a whole lot of fun even if it did verge on chaotic at times. These are two Americans who are welcome in London anytime.
Lillias White and Billy Stritch continue to play Crazy Coqs until April 23rd with live-stream options available. Schedule and tickets at https://www.brasseriezedel.com/calendar/