So, ok, we know all about Kerry Ellis’s rocky power belt, the vocal laser that carried Elphaba into the stratosphere and dug down and dirty with Meatloaf and bared all, vocally and emotionally speaking, with Queen’s “No-One But You (Only the Good Die Young)”. She ended her set at the Pheasantry with that killer encore and guess who was sitting (not so discreetly) in the corner of the room? He of the hair and singing guitar, Brian May, whose creative collaboration with Ellis has been bearing such fruit over the last couple of years. But, of course, nobody puts Brian in the corner and he was very much an inspiration for our lusty efforts in the Queen choruses.
But the point of this intro is to highlight how you really get to know a voice and its musicality from intimate gigs like this one – and having twice now enjoyed Kerry Ellis in a “room”, as opposed to a West End theatre or an arena, it was good to be reminded of how pure and pretty the voice is, how you can still hear the remnants of that soprano top when she lightens her sound and mixes it in numbers like “I’m Not That Girl” (from you know what) or “Tell Me On a Sunday” and “Unexpected Song” from Lloyd Webber’s song cycle-cum-monodrama which Ellis just has to do in the theatre (the Lord take note). And, of course, the irony of hearing her do “I Could Have Danced All Night” in her own contemporary way whilst rekindling memories of the legit soprano she deployed on the many nights she stood in Martine McCutcheon’s shoes at Drury Lane.
Another highlight of the evening for me was Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” which hit so many emotional buttons (boy, I love his songs) and embodied the great man in the piano playing of Will Stuart whose wonderful spontaneity and sense of style made it feel so effortless. Stuart’s presence made for an exciting underpinning of Ellis’ voice – great rhythmic keenness, pizzazz, whatever you choose to call it, and a way of leaning into chords like they really were inventions of the moment and he was chuffed to have found them.
It’s always good to hear something new, too, and Scott Alan’s gorgeous and stirring song “Never Neverland” was a shining example of how you can take the girl out of the theatre but you can’t take the belt out of the girl. Ellis and Stuart were an orchestra with that number just as they were a rock band with “No-One But You”.