Viva la diva, The Lowry, Salford

Modern divas dazzle in homage to past masters
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The Independent Culture

Stepping out of their respective comfort zones in "a fusion of song and dance", Darcey Bussell and Katherine Jenkins have unveiled their hybrid stage show, Viva La Diva, which has been under wraps for 18 months.

Bussell, who recently hung up her Royal Ballet shoes, and Jenkins turned to the divas of stage and screen who inspired them and created a lavish cabaret in which the retired prima ballerina sings and the woman with the most lucrative semi-classical recording contract of all time dances. Hats off to the pair of them for guts.

Said to have cost a million pounds to stage, the show looks a million dollars. A sleek, two-tiered fantasy set designed by Bill Laslett conjures the golden age of luxury shape and style, an art deco backdrop suggesting an ocean liner, its passengers sumptuously lit and extravagantly costumed. Directed by that guru of pop choreography Kim Gavin, Viva La Diva reeks of cultured decadence.

Bussell and Jenkins are first seen as if in their dressing rooms. What a wheeze, they muse, to pay homage to their favourite stars. Devised and written by the two women, with input from Gavin, the dialogue is the creakiest part of the show, which – after a slightly tentative first half – warms up to something rather good.

Bussell makes a straight-laced Audrey Hepburn in a take on Funny Face, foil to a brisk (though disgracefully uncredited) Miss Prescott. There's a sultry menace in "The Dance of the Knights" from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and loads of gusto in Jenkins' frothy impression of Doris Day as Calamity Jane in "Deadwood Stage".

Highlights include the colour expressionism of an episode from The Red Shoes in which Bussell reaches delirious heights in the role of Moira Shearer, and Natalie Wood's burlesque striptease routine from Gipsy. Jonathan Cope is the lead male dancer, proving his versatility in a number of roles, while Bob Fosse's hand-twirling, shoulder-shrugging, sexy strutting gets a look-in, too.

The finale with the entire company, an excellent ensemble, is a gorgeous summation of a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Jenkins is a little inhibited as a hoofer and Bussell needs to relax as a chanteuse, but they'll get accustomed to their new roles.

Jenkins's "Somewhere" from West Side Story was a little detached, the Gipsy Song from Carmen less than sultry, but her brave stab at Maria Callas in Rossini's "Una voce poca fa" from The Barber of Seville was airy and natural, while her homage to Marilyn Monroe in "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" sparkled.

Jenkins knows how to inhabit a part without resorting to stilted imitation and both women are adept at engaging with a capacity audience. Technical glitches will be ironed out and, as the two bring Garland, Streisand, Astaire, Charisse and others to life, their fans will not be disappointed.

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