Bonnie Langford: Christmas in New York
nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
December 15, 2010
Broadway casting directors, take note. There’s a new diva in town and someone should put her in a show, stat. She’s a triple threat and then some. She sings everything from show tunes to operetta, lands one-liners with ease, and kicks higher than her head. Petite, perky, and possessed of a wide toothy grin, she suggests Mary Martin by way of Gwen Verdon.
Who is this wonder? She’s Bonnie Langford...a household name in her native Britain but not so well-known in the States (despite having played Roxie in the Broadway and touring companies of Chicago). Her new cabaret show, Bonnie Langford: Christmas in New York should help change that. In it, she sings, dances, and patters to perfection...and drops a name or three along the way. In the process, Langford proves she’s every inch a star, and she provides her audience with a fun, frothy hour of entertainment.
The show is framed by Langford’s life story. She tells the audience about her first (and until now, only) Christmas in New York—when she played Baby June opposite Angela Lansbury in the 1974 revival of Gypsy, reprising her role from the West End production. Over a cleverly cut medley of songs from the show (“Let Me Entertain You,” “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Some People”), Langford regales us of her whole joyful, crazy experience, from playing eight shows a week to performing in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She even breaks into one of Baby June’s trademark splits.
Langford then recalls her West End debut at age seven in the troubled musical version of Gone With the Wind. The disastrous opening night led to an infamously obscene comment from Noel Coward, which Langford dutifully recalls then airily dismisses. The rest of the evening proceeds breezily along the chronological hit parade of Langford’s professional life, from originating a role in Cats, to her stint on the 1980s incarnation of Dr. Who, to starring in Pirates of Penzance and Peter Pan in London, to competing on the reality show Dancing on Ice (the British precursor to Skating with the Stars).
Under the skilled musical direction of Michael Lavine, Langford has assembled a notably diverse song set. It includes seasonal standards (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), lost gems (“Winter In New York” from the obscure Kander and Ebb revue Diamonds) and operetta (“A Word on My Ear,” a comical ode to the off-key). Langford samples her greatest hits—she sings Sweet Charity and Chicago medleys—but she also keeps things fairly current. She belts “Raise the Roof” from Andrew Lippa’s 1999 musical The Wild Party and pulls Lavine into a surprisingly charming duet during “Together Again” from 2007’s Young Frankenstein.
Like Langford herself, her show is the pinnacle of professionalism—polished and timed to an inch of its life. Langford skillfully connects with her audience. She looks each person in the eye and adjusts to the emotional temperature in the room like the pro she is...and yet, every so often, I longed for more glints of warmth behind all the poise. No matter—Bonnie Langford: Christmas in New York is a pleasant way to spend the evening, and a great introduction to one of British musical theatre’s troupers.