Cabaret: Liliane Montevecchi Jermyn Street Theatre, London

In 1982, Liliane Montevecchi pitched up in Manhattan and called her New York agent - "he was not dead yet" - after a 30-year silence. He suggested she audition for Tommy Tune's new musical, Nine. "I've never been to an audition in my life," she replied. "I'm a star."

As Stephen Sondheim wrote in Gypsy, "You either got it or ya' ain't and, boys, I got it." Not only that, Montevecchi is eager to flaunt it. Discovered in a pencil spotlight leaning seductively against a doorpost, she's clad in figure-hugging velvet that reaches little further than her wasp waist. Her legs, as Larry Gelbart put it in City of Angels, "Go all the way down to the floor." If she were 40, she'd be looking good. At 65, she's spectacular.

A prima ballerina for Roland Petit at 18, she went to MGM on a seven- year contract. Fritz Lang directed her first film and she also appeared with Brando, Astaire and Elvis Presley. Returning to Paris, she led the Folies Bergere for six years and in the late 1980s delivered a rip-roaring rendition of "Ah, Paree" in the celebrated concert version of Sondheim's Follies.

She retains the kind of guttural French accent last heard in Gigi. Full, long dramatic vowels, deliciously spat consonants and gurgling rolled Rs which shimmy into a gorgeously filthy laugh that punctuates her programme of songs by the likes of Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and Cole Porter. The danger of performing your own retrospective is that the whole affair can turn over-serious, but just when you think you are in for a bout of professional warmth peppered with smooth, slick renditions of career highlights, she bats her mascara'd eyelashes and cracks jokes.

The simplicity of her take on the French favourites "Autumn Leaves" and "Ne Me Quitte Pas" is a great relief after endless hand-wringing, curdling renditions by all too many nightclub acts, and she even gets away with a swift tribute to heroines including Josephine Baker, Mistinguett ("Mon Homme") and Piaf ("La Vie en Rose"). She brings a sophisticated air of bafflement to Sondheim's story of sexual peccadilloes in "I Never Do Anything Twice" and goes full throttle with Jerry Herman's "I Don't Want to Know" from Dear World.

The problem with the evening is the space. Intimate theatre is one thing but there isn't even enough room for a grand piano, although her pianist and musical director Barrie Bignold does his considerable best at an upright with or without the gazelle-like Montevecchi perched upon it. She clearly adores being almost literally in people's laps, but when such a petite woman is so much larger than life, you wish she had the room really to let rip.

To 23 June (0171-287 2875)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup