Broadway – with Seth Rudetsky, Jenna Russell & Judy Khun.
Leicester Square Theatre, 9 Leicester Place, London WC2H7BX – 2 performances, one night only 3 February 2019.
TICKETS: 020 7734 222
Review: William Russell 3 February
Two divas and one pianist
Theatre going can cost the earth, but these two shows – each lasting a little over two hours – gave audiences a chance to see and hear singing and talking about their careers two very different leading ladies – Jenna Russell and Judy Kuhn of the musical theatre. Russell has a long career on the London stage, Kuhn, currently in Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier Chocolate Factory, has only appeared in concert here and is making, after a an equally distinguished Broadway career, her West End debut.
The shows are hosted by Seth Rudetsky, raconteur and accompanist supreme who regularly appears at the Leicester Square Theatre, his London “home,” with shows like this. The ladies chatted, they sang a song, the revealed what it is like being in shows with all sorts of people. Rudetsky interrupted, guided them when they forgot to tell a story they had previously agreed to tell, and ensured – because neither proved the greatest story teller without a script – they got to the point. The result in both cases was very funny and, when they sang their songs, musicals heaven.
Russell did the first show, opening with a spot on rendering of Judy Garland singing San Francisco.
She also delivered one of the best Elaine Paige stories ever. Ms Paige has a reputation in the theatre. Early in her career Russell appeared in a show called Abracadabra at the Lyric in Hammersmith starring the first and only Evita. Thrilled at the presence of a star she confided to her how wonderful it had been to work with her “because everyone told me you were …..” Perhaps we will leave it there, but to her credit, Paige “laughed her head off.”
So did the audience. Russell starred opposite Ewan McGregor when he tried the world of musicals playing Sky Masterton to her Sister Sarah in Guys and Dolls. He was not only gorgeous, but, nice – during her big number when the couple go to Havana he retreated to the side of the stage so she got to sing centre stage without distractions. Her partner suggested that when Sky first kissed Sarah it lingered a little too long, surely she would have been taken aback. “What a good note to get,” she said.
But when the time came at the following performance to carry it out – the kiss still lingered. She has starred in several Sondheim shows, won an Olivier for Sunday in the Park with George, and won Seth’s admiration by revealing she can call the great man Steve. Not everyone dares. As for what the cast of Les Mis, in which she played several roles over the years, got up to on the barricades all she would say was they were very, very naughty.
Kuhn, who followed with the evening show, had a cold – relieved somewhat by a trip to A&E. The shock to her system of being treated for free on the NHS may have helped her get over a bit. If she sings like that with a cold, what she sounds like when she is in the best of health must be amazing. Broadway divas who come to London are too often past their prime, but this was a lady in her prime with high notes to shatter champagne flutes.
She delivered a stunning rendition of All the colours of the Wind – she sang the role of Pocahontas in the Disney movie, although they got an American Indian to speak the lines, revealed that Trevor Nunn, who has directed her in Fiddler, likes to start rehearsals with several days of improve before they get down to the show, and that Yul Brynner seemed to think he really was a king when touring in The King and I, which he did for years. At the end he got the last entrance to take a bow. The problem with footlights is that you cannot see much beyond the front three rows, and if they did not give him a standing ovation, even although the rest of the House was on its feet, he would turn his back on the House and bow.
“He mooned!” cried Mr Rudetsky.