BWW Reviews: JUDY KUHN LIVE AT THE HIPPODROME, October 9 2012
Judy Kuhn, known on Broadway for her role in Chess and Les Misérables (and by 90s Disney fans as the singing voice of the animated Pocahontas) is performing a week-long cabaret run at the Hippodrome Casino's Matcham Room. Kuhn lends her distinctive tone to composers such as Sondheim and Loesser and poetic singer-songwriters like Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell in this continuous set, backed by a stunning band of three (piano, cello and percussion).
Kuhn has an all-American confidence in the spotlight, belting out big notes and crooning soft ones in an artful way, if not completely letting loose in the process. Her fondness for the music of writers such as Laura Nyro and Leonard Cohen boosts her performance of their tracks, but the repetitive and sometimes limited lyrical makeup of these pop/folk tracks means Kuhn doesn't get the opportunity to show off much range in her interpretation. Highlights like Adam Guettel's Life is But a Dream and Sondheim's In Buddy's Eyes show potential for a spine-tingling performance, but the show is overall fairly subtle and controlled, never really gaining momentum.
Fun tracks such as the jazzy Forbidden Fruit pick up the pace a little, and Joni Mitchell's Night Ride Home is a lovely, mellow tribute to one of her musical heroes. Kuhn talks effortlessly about her background and family life, injecting some romance into the proceedings with songs that seem connected with her marriage, but something is missing. Without much of a connection to her UK audience, Kuhn relies alone on performing like a pro (which she does to great effect) but there are no real crowd pleasers, the set list perhaps too tied up in her personal tastes. That said, her rich vibrato and subtle acting is very easy to sit back and enjoy, especially in the atmospheric, curved Matcham Room with its plush booths and sexy lighting.
This isn't cabaret in the rowdy, spontaneous sense, but a one-woman show about emotion and music. It may not seem commercial enough for the West End but the packed venue showed that Judy Kuhn's fans were out in force, and she did them proud with this classy set.