Opportunities to see American cabaret artistes in central London are still few and far between, despite an increase in demand for the genre over here. Barbara Cook hasn’t visited our shores for some time now, and Betty Buckley’s recent stay here for an all too brief London run of Dear World sadly didn’t see her talents utilised on the cabaret front. Elaine Stritch has just completed a triumphant final season at the Cafe Carlyle in New York prior to her retirement to Michigan too. It’s heartening therefore to be able to experience cabaret of the finest quality at a new central London nightspot in Piccadilly, the Crazy Coqs. Programmed by Ruth Leon (and reasonably priced), the art deco room is in the basement of the former Regent Palace hotel, across the road from the Piccadilly Theatre. It’s a deliciously intimate venue in opulent surroundings, with 20 or so tables and attentive (yet discreet) bar staff. 

Just up the road from Piccadilly, A Chorus Line is playing its first London revival at the Palladium. Now audiences have a rare chance to see the original Cassie from that show, Donna McKechnie, in a show entitled Same Place Another Time. An hour and a quarter long set pairs McKechnie with Nathan Martin’s charming and personable accompaniment on piano. McKechnie’s song programme largely consists of numbers that reveal what it was like arriving in New York in the 1970s (when it was very different to now) and living and working there during an age of many great shows. She includes songs such as ‘Confessions of a New Yorker’ and Sondheim’s ‘What More Do I Need?’, although surprisingly she avoids the latter’s New York musical Company. McKechnie also channels Maggie’s song from A Chorus Line, which she inspired, ‘At the Ballet’ – and it’s like watching a piece of musical theatre history unfold before your very eyes.

McKechnie’s cabaret is structured as a kind of ‘therapy’ – she says that she has been afflicted by both arthritis and divorce over the years and is still getting over the latter. Exposed in such intimate surroundings, McKechnie proves that she can still sing with the best of them, but more importantly, that she can both communicate with an audience and entertain them, even giving us a few dance moves too. Stories of the perils of flat sharing in New York, of Fred Astaire whisking her off for dinner, and of her lifelong friendship with A Chorus Line composer Marvin Hamlisch (her audition pianist at the age of 17), are told with flair and genuine affection and reflection. McKechnie admits that it was tough to balance her love life with her work (‘Where do you start’ – a song about starting over after a breakup – is particularly movingly interpreted) and that her relationship with New York itself is her longest one. McKechnie’s love of both musical theatre and of New York is infectious throughout. A Chorus Line is back in town – and its original star is still doing it for love.