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Bonnie Langford ‘Live… and Still Kicking!’

Thank you for braving the wind, the rain… and the Government,” beams Bonnie Langford to a packed venue. And she’s right to keep smiling, because the ability to gather and enjoy an evening of music and anecdotes (and, this being Pizza Express Live, food as well as drinks) isn’t something to be taken for granted, with the world being what it is. In this retrospective show, Langford starts by going back to the beginning of her stage career – almost. Certain members of the audience felt knowledgeable, recognising as they did a song or two from Gypsy: A Musical Fable (that Langford performed alongside Dame Angela Lansbury was a particularly poignant point, less than a fortnight after Lansbury’s death), before she sang something unfamiliar to most, from the 1972 musical Scarlett (re-named Gone With The Wind for the London production). I liked her playful nature in this regard, as though she was saying, “You think you know me, but you don’t.

Bonnie Langford 'Live... and Still Kicking!'There came a point, however, where she claimed she didn’t recall her entire career history, relying on a printout, duly supplied by her musical director Anthony English, of her own Wikipedia page (it does, perhaps unsurprisingly, have errors, or so we’re told). The adaptation of melodies from various showtunes works brilliantly, especially when the lyrics are changed to advance Langford’s story. Sometimes she likes to have some fun, too, and there are jaw-dropping moments, such as when she suddenly does the splits mid-sentence with the same level of ease that I would push a button at a pelican crossing.

But while her distinguished career across theatre and television results in sold-out solo shows even during a cost of living crisis, she hasn’t always been so celebrated. Sir Noël Coward attended the press night of Gone With The Wind, and remarked that the show might have been better if only the producers had “cut the second act… and the child’s throat!” The child in question was Bonnie Langford, and such early criticism, terse as it was, failed to dent her confidence, a point underlined in a song late in the set about drawing from inner strength and personal reserves when life isn’t going great. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and all that jazz.

Ah yes, Chicago. There was a nod to that, as well as the likes of Cats and 42nd Street. A lovely tribute in the second half to Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Cilla Black was an opportunity to enjoy songs from a generation ago. Having been a child performer herself, she was enthusiastic about shows like Billy Elliot and Matilda, which involve large numbers of children, both on stage and in the audience – it’s difficult to disagree with the premise that live theatre is always one generation away from extinction, and there’s a consistent need to engage younger people.

It wasn’t all about showtunes – I had no idea she’d been on ITV’s Dancing On Ice, for instance, on both the regular edition and something called Champion of Champions (I can only assume, despite an early incident in rehearsals in which she sustained a head injury, she did rather better than she let on). She also had a regular role in the BBC Television soap EastEnders for four years (nope, I didn’t know that either) – and to incorporate that, and so much more, into her own show without sounding in the least bit narcissistic or leaving the audience feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of details, is highly impressive.

She doesn’t take herself too seriously either, making quips about embarrassing – and memorable – moments, and that she never grew to be anywhere near six foot tall. “And though she be but little, she is fierce,” says Helena in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act III Scene II), in reference to Hermia. She may as well have been talking about Bonnie Langford. A delightful and genuinely pleasant performance.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bonnie Langford is celebrating 50 years in show business. Having starred in the West End, on Broadway, as well as on television, radio and film, she has many stories and songs to share from her glittering career. Join Bonnie, accompanied by her musical director, Anthony England, for an evening of fun, laughter, tears and glorious music.

21st – 23rd October 2022

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