Review: Stephen Ashfield Cabaret in the House, Lauderdale House, Sunday 20 March 2011

Originally written for The Public Reviews.

In the last of their spring cabaret season, Lauderdale House provided perfect Sunday evening fare with this pairing of Stephen Ashfield and Amy Coombes in the intimate and historic setting of the long gallery. Both performers presented delightfully eclectic sets peppered with warm chat and anecdotes, all tied together by fabulous host Valerie Cutko.

Supporting act Amy Coombes performed a fun and varied set that was much more than just a warm up for the main event. A confessed swing and jazz addict who joked that she was born in the wrong era, Coombes opened and closed with big band classics including the beautiful ‘Cry Me a River’ and a lively rendition of ‘Orange Coloured Sky’. Coombes’ bubbly personality brimmed over in comedy numbers such as ‘The Alto’s Lament’, while colouring the evening with some more delicate shades in an emotional performance of ‘Over the Rainbow’. A highlight was the riotous and racy number ‘A Simple Valley Song’, taken from the musical Jet Set Go! which Coombes appeared in at the Jermyn Street Theatre and sung here with a cheeky, infectious glee.

While Coombes provided a warm and charming opening, her entertaining set did not outshine Stephen Ashfield’s headline performance. Fresh from his three year stint in the massively successful Jersey Boys, it was a delight to hear a set that fully showcased Ashfield’s impressive vocal range in some very different numbers to those that audiences are used to hearing him perform. His musical choices were quirky and personal, opening with ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and followed by a medley of old show tune favourites such as ‘On the Street Where You Live’ and ‘The Surrey With the Fringe on Top’, all performed with confident ease.

Although this was Ashfield’s cabaret debut, he sparkled like a seasoned cabaret performer, establishing an effortless rapport with the audience and mixing up the set with a nicely balanced selection of songs. It was a treat to hear a couple of numbers from Taboo, the musical that provided him with his big break as Boy George, which temporarily lowered the tempo and provided a gentle breather. Ashfield then got into full comic swing with a wonderful performance from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a show that he told us he unsuccessfully auditioned for. I have not seen the current run at the Donmar, but if last night’s display was anything to go by then he was robbed.

The night was rounded off with an entertaining return to Ashfield’s Scottish roots, complete with audience sing-along and the surprise appearance of a kilt, followed by an obligatory Jersey Boys number. The evening concluded in the comic tone that dominated throughout, with a witty version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ that Ashfield had changed to ‘My Song’, a ballad from a bitter Bob Gaudio’s perspective.

Often side-splittingly funny and always entertaining, Coombes, Ashfield and host Cutko provided a highly enjoyable night to conclude Lauderdale’s cabaret season. Cabaret in the House returns in the autumn, no doubt with another plethora of West End talent to delight the audience in the long gallery.

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