Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Kerry Ellis Live at the Pheasantry



Kerry Ellis Live 
The Pheasantry
Reviewed on Saturday 24th January 2015
★★★★★

Last week Kerry Ellis - the first lady of the West End - played three sold out shows at the Pheasantry in Chelsea, marking her return to the venue. The intimate space paved way for a chilled evening of immense variety. Those familiar with Ellis' work will know she isn't just a stereotypical musical theatre performer; she has a strong musical identity and is able to make absolutely any song of any style her own - something which is easier said than done.

The opening of the show paid tribute to her career in musicals; Ellis' CV is packed with iconic roles - from Nancy in Oliver to Ellen in Miss Saigon and Fantine in Les Miserables. She kicked off with 'I'm Not That Girl' from Wicked (which Ellis returned to last year for a limited run), a song which is often forgotten amongst Stephen Schwartz's epic, anthemic score. Entrancing renditions of 'I Could Have Danced All Night' and 'On The Street Where You Lived' followed, both of which can be heard on Ellis' most recent must-have studio album.

As well as performing plenty of old favourites, there were also a few surprises in store. As Ellis is about to take over from Nicole Scherzinger as Grizabella in Cats at the London Palladium, she paid tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber; her rousing rendition of 'Unexpected Song'  from Song and Dance provided one of the evening's unforgettable highlights. Ellis also performed a hauntingly beautiful version of 'Children Will Listen' from Into The Woods which worked a treat. There were a handful of contemporary hits in the set list including an utterly breathtaking Katy Perry melody (which I need on my iPod) as well as hits by Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

Ellis has natural charm and bounces off an audience with ease. She seamlessly flows from song to song and makes it all look so easy, which is a tricky skill to master. Her laid back attitude made the evening feel calm, friendly and relaxed - she often asked questions and invited the audience to sing-a-long several times (the 'Any Dream Will Do' sing-a-long was genius - I've never heard such a tuneful audience). There was even a spontaneous duet (Ellis joked it was strange to sing 'For Good' with a man for the first time) and at one point four fans joined her onstage as backing dancers which was fantastic fun.

Another stand out number was 'Defying Gravity' - a song Ellis has performed countless times. This stripped back version worked an absolute treat in the intimate setting of the Pheasantry, you could hear a pin drop. The man behind all these masterful arrangements is theatre composer Craig Adams. In a previous review I wrote "it seems anything Adams touches turns to gold", it is always an utter joy to see how Adams brings out a new quality from a song we all know and love. Ellis and Adams share a strong connection, even when not making eye contact you can feel that musically they fully trust each other. 

It made a nice change to see Ellis performing stripped back songs with just a piano; she hosted a very special and warm hearted evening of musical bliss. 

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Read our interviews with Kerry Ellis and Craig Adams

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