As you know, I have a soft spot for musical theatre. I love theatre of any kind, but there’s something I can’t resist about the raw emotion of shows such as Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Hamilton. I admire any actor who can stretch themselves to excel in the musical genre, which is why so many of my posts feature the likes of Marti Webb, Patti Boulaye and John Barrowman.
One of Pizza Express Live’s strongest selling points is its support for West End performers keen to showcase their own material and tonight I loved watching Katie Birtill perform a mixture of classics and newer tunes at The Pheasantry.
Introducing her first set, Birtill told us that she “…wanted tonight to be about something interesting: I’d like us to share an evening where we can enjoy the world’s positives: it’s a scary place at the moment”. Accompanied by her jazz quartet, Birtill launched into ‘Blue Skies’: “One of the most joyous songs I know”.
Pausing, Birtill reflected: “I love the idea of pushing back on the terms of the “ideal aesthetic” we’re supposed to aspire to. We’re all beautiful, but even the most beautiful people don’t always feel it”. We loved Birtill’s rendition of ‘I Feel Pretty’ from one of my favourite musicals, ‘West Side Story’, and for which the brilliant Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics.
All of the above, of course, are well-known classics – so it was interesting watching Birtill’s tone change as she reflected on what the past few years have meant for her personally: “A couple of years ago, I released my debut album, ‘Baby Dream Your Dream’ – and putting myself out there was a scary moment”. After she’d sung the title track, Birtill began reflecting on the future and her forthcoming EP ‘Something’s Coming’.
The EP features more Sondeheim songs, including ‘No One is Alone’; a beautiful ballad which left the whole room moved. Birtill finished the set with “One of my favourite songs in the world – and we’ve played around with it. I’m wondering if this updated version of ‘Something’s Coming’ is sacrilege – but I hope you like it”. We did.
Set Two proved equally enjoyable, featuring more songs from Birtill’s first album and some musings over the state of the planet and the response of younger generations: “The youth of today are coming for us. We need to cherish the gorgeousness of this world and appreciate that life’s not all about materialistic things”, Birtill told us, before singing ‘Children Will Listen’ and ‘Who Will Buy?’ She also treated us to Percy Mayfield’s ‘Please Send Me Someone to Love’, one of my highlights from tonight.
‘On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)’ and ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ followed and then – oh joy – Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Blue Moon’ which, Katie informed us, features in no fewer than seven MGM films.
My favourite moment of the night was, however, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. This was my grandmother’s favourite song, just as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was her favourite film – and just hearing it makes me emotional. I’m not ashamed to admit that Katie Birtill’s rendition caused me to shed a tear.
An encore comprising ‘I Got the Sun in the Morning’, made famous by Doris Day, and Rodgers and Hammersteins’s ‘Oh! What a Beautiful Mornin’ meant that tonight finished in the most upbeat possible way: just what was needed on this chilly January evening.