BWW Reviews: KERRY ELLIS LIVE AT THE HIPPODROME, October 2 2012
Kerry Ellis, best known for leading lady stints in Wicked, Oliver and We Will Rock You, has been in 'solo artist' territory for some time now, recording and touring with legendary guitarist and mentor Brian May. In the new Hippodrome Casino's sexy, purple-hued cabaret venue, The Matcham Room, she seems to be having a great time performing her week-long residency, with a very talented band and backing vocalists in tow. You can sit back and enjoy drinks and nibbles in a plush booth in this curved cabaret space with a stage, sound desk and balcony. It was quite subdued for cabaret, the civilised crowd perhaps brought in by the ticket price (from £25). The songs in Ellis's one continuous set were a mixture of pop and musical theatre, all linked with her career or her personal taste - and all beautifully suited to her distinctive, warm tone.
For Kerry Ellis has warmth in spades, with so many textures to show off in her voice - rock'n'roll, soul, country, Broadway belt and classical head voice. Kicking off with a somewhat sedate version of Adele's Rolling in the Deep, it became clear that this is well-rehearsed, lovingly conceived stuff. You have to respect an established star who doesn't simply rock up on the week with a list of favourites and blag their way through it. Moving into unusual arrangements of numbers from her most well known shows (I Could Have Danced All Night, Who Will Buy) and ones she'd love to do (Take That Look Off Your Face and Tell Me on a Sunday from the Lloyd Webber show of the same name), a uniform 'lounge' sound did start to grate a little - all of these stirring numbers seemed to have had the Magic FM treatment. But a haunting re-working of I Dreamed a Dream and a role-reversed, romantic rendition of On The Street Where You Live picked things up a little.
MD Craig Adams was proudly announced as the arranger of the nights' songs, but many may think he has gone a step too far in changing the chord structure and/or rhythm of most of the songs performed. As Ellis fondly introduced the Tell Me on a Sunday numbers as a show she'd relish the opportunity to perform, I did think fleetingly of how flattered Lloyd Webber, Schwartz or Boublil and Schoenberg would be to hear their work so 'transformed'. The new arrangements weren't always solidly delivered as well, with a few seemingly halting moments or some time needed to get into the groove on more than one occasion.
Ellis's voice, however, stays creamy and powerful throughout. If there's doubt in the arrangements, it isn't coming from her. A low-key rendition of Defying Gravity towards the end was spine tingling, as was a sultry performance of Ed Sheeran's pulsating album track Give Me Love. Ending with two Lady Gaga songs was a tiny bit anticlimactic (partly because no one can touch Gaga live, partly because the subject matter was less intense than the rest of the set list).
The musicians on the whole were excellent, and the percussionist particularly easy on the eye. Speaking of being really, really, ridiculously good-looking, Ellis's guest on the Tuesday night was Rory Taylor of Superstar fame. Performing As Long as You're Mine flawlessly with Ellis and the Beatles' Amazed solo, with his guitar, Taylor added a lot to the show (two un-messed-with numbers, for starters) and proved that, as Ellis announced - with endearing candour - he probably 'should've won' the ITV talent show. Kerry Ellis is a composed, professional performer who glows with her love of music. Her fans will love the evening as a showcase of her voice; musical theatre fans specifically may be irked by the 'bold' arrangements, but there is no getting away from the fact that this is a quality cabaret in an atmospheric venue.