Review by Tom Millward
31 May 2016
What I love about Laura Michelle Kelly is simply the fact that, both as a performer and as a human being, she truly wears her heart on her sleeve. In the grand, yet intimate setting of Feinstein’s/54 Below, you feel you could just stand up and ask her the most personal of questions and she would gladly open up to you as if nobody else in the room were present… and she’d probably have a relatable song in her canon.
This was actually my first visit to the iconic Broadway hotspot and what better way to pop my Feinstein’s cherry than with an Olivier Award-winning actress and current Broadway star of ‘Finding Neverland’ at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. I have had the pleasure of interviewing this positively delightful lady in the past, but never had the opportunity to attend a solo concert and I can honestly say the evening was a spoonful of sugar that would help any medicine go down. It was, in fact, medicine for the soul.
At events like these with such a high-calibre musical theatre artist, you can rest assured you’ll be in for a great vocal performance with a tremendous vocal range on show. What interests me more is – do I get to feel like I know the person as a human being a little better than before I went in? In the case of Ms Kelly, the answer is a resounding Yes... and then some!
Her relaxed and yet grateful demeanour creates an instantly warm atmosphere and her anecdotes are a perfect mix of the trivial, profound and deeply personal. She tells us of her humble beginnings milking cows on the Isle of Wight and her first break, attending an open call and going on to play an enchanted dustpan and brush in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in London. Many of her interactions centred on moving to New York and coping with the hectic nature of the Big Apple. She shared about how she listens to the sounds of the woodlands on her headphones as she makes her way through the busy streets and, more intimately, about the challenges of being single in the big city. Yes, you can find her on most dating sites apparently. Oh, except Tinder (and Grindr, for that matter)! But then who needs a partner, when you have the love of a four-legged friend? She had an onslaught of cute portraits of herself with her dog – aka Couver (the love of her life) – on display on the monitors, during her rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Puppy Song.” There were also some nice ‘girly’ touches to the evening to the delight of her predominantly young, female fan base, which included pink balloons and gift bags on the tables filled with chocolates and bubble blowers. All in all, you left feeling you had just been a part of a highly personal evening and you felt like you had just made a friend.
Her setlist was an eclectic mix of show tunes, interpretations of pop hits and self-penned numbers. None were randomly selected, as each of the songs had specific reasons for their inclusion. She shied away from performing numbers from her most notable stage roles in musicals such as ‘Mary Poppins’ or ‘My Fair Lady,’ and instead offered us songs that specially connected her to her father, for example, or helped her get through the time after losing her mother to cancer. Highlights of the song list included George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s “Just Beyond the Stars” from ‘Peter Pan,’ in which she played Wendy alongside her real-life brothers, as well as a new Bluegrass-infused version of “All That Matters,” where she was joined by two cast members from ‘Finding Neverland.’ Her mellow interpretation of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was enchanting and the medley of “Everybody Says Don’t” (from ‘Anyone Can Whistle’) and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” (from ‘Funny Girl’) proved that she can also show off her brassy side, when called upon.
And the icing on the cake came with guest star Jeremy Jordan, star of TV’s “Smash” and “Supergirl” and Kelly’s original co-star in ‘Finding Neverland’ in Cambridge. His rendition of Paulo Nutini’s “New Shoes” rocked the small venue, before Kelly joined him for their best “Moulin Rouge” impressions, as they belted out “Come What May.”
If you get the chance to witness this remarkable professional bare her soul in person, whether that is at a solo concert or as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in ‘Finding Neverland,’ I urge you not to miss out on the opportunity. She is a beautifully honest leading lady of the modern musical theatre scene.
Click HERE to book upcoming events at Feinstein's/54 Below.
Click HERE to book tickets to Finding Neverland at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre until 21 August 2016.