Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Many happy returns are due to the most engaging of all Pizza Express basements. The Chelsea home of Pizza Express Live, the chain’s live music and performance operation, is 10 years old and is hosting a week of cabaret performances from the historic venue’s old (and new) friends.
The Tuesday show kicked off the four-night mini-festival, pushing a jolly and relaxed air. Packed with friends and well-wishers, the room is the ideal setting for an intimate performance. A mixed bag followed, some highs, some lows but mainly mid-tier stuff – some very interesting versions of classics, some straight covers and a few misplaced ideas.
Pizza Express Live stalwart, Dominic Alldis, on the piano and vocals was accompanied by Andrew Cleyndert on double bass for his set of 11. Technically excellent music competed with a brusque singing style that came across a little cold. Mixing genres, adding his own twist, produced uneven results. His Air from Suite No. 3 from J.S. Bach sounded like it was written as a jazz tune so naturally did it fit, and Noel Coward’s Sail Away was a gorgeous ending to the set. In contrast, his takes on My Fair Lady classics I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face and I Could Have Danced All Night were confusing and felt like invention for inventions sake, rather than trying to convey any sort of wider message. The whole effect was that Alldis was going through the motions, keen to show off what he can do more than entertain the crowd. This likely isn’t the case at all for Alldis, a veteran performer, but it’s the feeling that gets communicated to the audience and picked up so is unfortunate.
From the smooth jazz piano and double bass came a switch to musical theatre and a much sharper, broadway style. Summer Strallen brought some big tunes, and a big voice to carry them. The combined effect, as she acknowledged a little on the stage, was overly intense in such a small space – stage musical high notes amplified from a speaker 6ft away is not a great experience for anyone. Starting with a fairly unexciting I Get a Kick Out Of You we went through some Sondheim and other favourites from the musicals – interspersed with uninspiring chat as links. She hit her stride with a genuinely good cover of Never Enough from The Greatest Showman before a lacklustre version of Andrew Lippa’s Life of the Party.
Headlining this celebration was a reunion of the Fascinating Aida trio in a practice show before a December residency at the Southbank. A few calibration issues aside (understandable after a three year break) they flew through a funny, bawdy, joyful set of classics and fresher material. The ladies mix styles with everything from unaccompanied Scottish and Irish folk to ballad and their trademark vamping comic songs. Dilly Keane’s barking, confident delivery kept everyone on their toes and the physicality of the others raised actual peals of laughter. There’s a reason why these three are so popular on the cabaret stages (and everywhere else) and it shows through even when they’re not at 100%.
This Birthday celebration is off to an uneven start, but with a cracking line-up, there’s high hopes for a strong finish.
Reviewed on 11 November 2019 | Image: Contributed