For those who appreciate musicals, you can’t go far wrong with seeing this. Ms Melody La Rouge (Kerry Jo Hodgkin) is the host of a one-woman journey through a selection of musicals written by John Kander and Fred Ebb.
With the clever use of two plain black panels, the space in the Tristan Bates theatre is reduced to a more intimate setting. A red and black cloak hangs from a microphone stand and a cocktail glass rests on a table awaiting the entry of Ms La Rouge. With a series of pre-recorded piano tracks (by Ian Riley) tied together with some vamped underscoring, Hodgkin times her material perfectly to share some anecdotes about the history of some of America’s most famous musicals before seamlessly opening into a relevant song. The programme touts these anecdotes as "fun and fascinating", which perhaps oversells it a little. There are some nice stories on how they met and their introduction to a teenage Liza Minnelli, but it’s more of a basic introduction to the composing duo than anything revealing. This is not necessarily a bad thing as I, for one, came to this with little knowledge of the pair.
Aside from a hefty pair of lungs (a euphemism if you wish), Hodgkin boasts an impressive burlesque outfit of lace and corsetry. A well-coordinated palette of red and black decorates the minimal set. The songs are playfully and seductively performed with great commitment, though a couple of the top notes seemed a little bit of a challenge early on - this could have been due to the chilly temperature of the well air-conditioned theatre. In the performance I saw, there wasn’t quite the packed house that this kind of production thrives on and this, along with the temperature, may have explained Hodgkin’s visibly shaking hands. If this was nerves, it certainly didn’t show in her performance and she found herself among friends with whoops of appreciation from the gentleman sat behind me.
I would have liked a little more of a personal connection from Ms La Rouge. There is certainly more room to define and play up to the character, and I wanted to know who she was.
There are some big show tunes in the fourteen songs on the playlist. With Chicago favourites "Razzle Dazzle", "When You’re Good To Mama" and "And All That Jazz" being highlights. Hodgkin has a strong voice, well suited to the genre, and sparkles with life in each of the songs. Though she could afford to go even bigger with some of the showstoppers, Hodgkin’s forte lies in the softer moments. "A Quiet Thing" and "But The World Goes Round" were when you could close your eyes and imagine the smoky jazz club, glass of whiskey and a sombre pianist losing himself in the music; her smooth vocals are totally complemented by the piano.
Melody La Rouge’s journey through the Kander and Ebb catalogue is an easy-listening hour of late-night entertainment that will probably have you looking for the nearest jazz bar when you leave. I was certainly humming the songs all of the way home.