Caroline O'Connor: The Showgirl Within

Produced by Neil Eckersley & Paul Spicer for Speckulalion Entertainment and Stuart Piper & Jon Bath for Cole Kitchenn
Garrick Theatre

Caroline O'Connor: The Showgirl Within production photo by Douglas Fry

After Lynda Carter: At Last, An Evening with Julie Andrews, Frances Ruffelle: Beneath the Dress and others besides Caroline O'Connor: The Showgirl Within may look like more of the same, and for sport one could speculate what is going to come up next - Lily Savage: Under the Wig perhaps?

Jests aside though, The Showgirl Within has something more than most. It's not just the polished delivery of wall-to-wall show tunes from a pro: here you also get the slick direction and choreography from Michael Gracey and Ashley Wallen (the force behind Kylie, Sugarbabes et al), funny film clips, O'Connor's first-rate impersonations and autobiographical anecdotes told with self-effacing warmth and excellent comic timing. To mis-quote the song " all the odds are in her favour ".

Add to this assembly of skills a talented ensemble of young singer dancers, a seven-piece band and the cherry on the top sensational orchestrations by MD Daniel Edmonds and it's an embarrassment of riches.

The songs stand like musical milestones in a career that started with a young O'Connor mimicking movie stars around the house with her dog as the audience. It's a professional journey that has taken in leading roles in London, on Broadway and in her adopted homeland of Australia in Mack & Mabel, Piaf, Chicago as Roxie and Velma, and as Garland in End of the Rainbow. That's without listing all the more modest roles it took to get to the heady heights.

On film O'Connor came to attention as Nini in Moulin Rouge, more recently played Ethel Merman in the bio-pic of Cole Porter, De-Lovely, and, at last month's BBC Proms, O'Connor featured amongst the starry cast of the Sondheim concert. In anybody's book, it's some journey from understudying Anita Dobson in Budgie to Broadway Baby at the Royal Albert Hall.

That Ms O'Connor moves as fluidly as her younger troupe attests her professionalism and Royal Ballet School training; when she talks she is energetic and physical with a strong stage presence and she sings with a voice to match. As she belts her way through the musical classics it seems like one exhilarating treat after the other; in the second act we get her Garland, her Merman, her Piaf - to quote another song, "How lucky can you get?".

May be too lucky because by the end of the show the divas and the crescendos seemed unremitting and my elation was tempered by a feeling that I had had an emotional and auditory bludgeoning, thanks also, but not only, to a huge speaker only feet away from my seat. That said, if I was going to get such a clubbing why settle for getting it from anyone with less charisma and style. Ms O'Connor lands a quality punch.

"Caroline O'Connor: The Showgirl Within" plays at the Garrick Theatre until Sunday 3 October with performances every evening at 8pm and a Sunday matinée at 4pm

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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