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Garrick Theatre


27 Sept - 3 Oct 2010




A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

This is a show for anyone who worked up their own song and dance routines to famous musical show tunes and pretended to be Barbara Streisand or Judy Garland in front of the bathroom mirror. Caroline O'Connor opens her show by telling her audience that as a latch-key kid in Australia, she did just that in the parlour with only her dog as an audience. The Showgirl Within is about her own journey from there to Broadway. Originally from Oldham (she gets a laugh for self-deprecation, as an 'Old Ham') later an Irish national dance champion down under (she gets a bit of that in the show too) she made it all the way to sing and dance in many of the top international musical theatre productions, being one of the few performers to play both Velma Kelly and Roxy Hart in Chicago. She has also graced the silver screen. Fans of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge will know her as 'Nini-legs-in-the-air' who dances the tango to 'Roxanne' and she played Ethel Mermen singing 'Anything Goes' in the film about Cole Porter's life, De-Lovely. O’Connor treats her audience to a reprise of these and her many other stage and screen performances, supported by her small troupe of four singing and dancing girls and boys and a fantastic band (including her husband Barrie Shaw on reed instruments) in the heart of London's West End with this energetic new show.

Caroline O'Connor looks like Betty Boop come to life on stage and she can dance, sing and act with a professionalism and panache rarely seen in one small, tight package. She has an incredibly strong and versatile voice, capable of astonishing mimicry through a dizzying array of characters from the English actress Isabel Jeans through many costume changes to a rousing finale as Edith Piaf.

Early on in the show, a screen descends during a costume change and we see Caroline's quirky face super-imposed on many of the great stars of Hollywood's heyday. This is intended as a joke to illustrate her life-long dreams, but also suggested to me one of the problems with the show if you don't come to it as an adoring fan. It's all about Caroline O'Connor - the auditions, the struggle to get there and stay there, the greasepaint, but chiefly the joy of being in the spotlight. I imagine most people go to see musical theatre to forget the harsh demands of making a career and escape the machinery of everyday life. The straining at stardom enacted in the show reminded me uncomfortably of TV talent contests like X Factor where the contestants tell you endlessly about how much they want to make it as a star to win those all important votes. It all felt a little desperate and breathless, but that's fine if you really identify with the aspiration to celebrity, which many people do in these bleak, unpromising times. For some, there may be something dispiriting about a series of unconnected show tunes put together merely to illustrate an individual performer's career. However, Ms O'Connor's generosity in promoting each member of her song & dance troupe to introduce themselves ran counterweight to any idea that she might be a diva. We learned that pretty blonde Lauren Hall was born with dislocated hips and statuesque Lucinda Lawrence has asthma, that Liam Wrate was called G Raffe at school because of his long neck and that Edward French is called 'Ted', all of which suggested how ordinary these four young performers really were behind their glamorous stage personas, allowing us to dream about how we might be treading the boards too, if only we worked hard enough and paid our dues in blood, sweat and tears. About half of the show was performed with the dance troupe singing and dancing along with O'Connor, the other half she performed solo with her band on the right of the stage who she also introduced individually. Suited and booted, they were everything a showgirl needs to give that spotlight real drama, with the full range of youthful talent (Louis Van Der Weshuizen on bass) and louche experience (Graham Russell on trumpet). It was altogether a very professional outfit, performed without a ruffle to distract from the main attraction, smoothly directed from the left of the stage by pianist and musical director Daniel Edmonds.

This takes nothing from Caroline O'Connor's obvious talent, energy and charm. She is quite rightly the star of her own show. Her comedic delivery and natural physical humour reminded me of Lucille Ball and the audience obviously loved her for it. She is aware that she is 'funny-looking', sticking her tongue out of the side of her mouth frequently to deflate the diva roles she plays, winning the loyalty and support of her public and yes, she does have that star quality which can support a one-woman show like this even if too much razzle dazzle can be as tedious as too little for some tastes. Her second encore, 'Broadway Baby' is a perfect title song for the show with its lyrics so emblematic of her theme. Anyone who, like Ms O'Connor, ever dreamed of being in a 'great big Broadway show' is bound to love it. Fans of Cabaret will also be delighted by her performance of 'Mein Herr' - one could not ask for more from Lisa Minelli herself. It is a mythical feature of true divas that they give their all on stage, and she doesn't disappoint singing, dancing and acting, often doing all three at once so that this was almost more of a circus act than a theatre performance. However, if you want to see and hear 'All That Jazz' and many other numbers as they were meant to be performed, Caroline O'Connor will certainly give you your money's worth at The Garrick this week.



Garrick Theatre
 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0HH

Mon – Tue 8.00pm, Wed 7.00pm, Thu – Sat 8.00pm, Sun 4.00pm & 8.00pm

Tickets: £39.50, £30.00, £25.00, £15.00

Box Office 0844 412 4662



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