After decades of varied performances on film, stage, and television, Kathleen Turner is finally starting to sing. Or, well, groan melodically. Although I went into her show "Finding My Voice" secretly hoping for a surprise performance of “Viva Las Gaygas”, Kathleen’s cabaret weaving interesting life stories with relevant songs made for an enchanting time at London’s Other Palace Theatre. And enchanting is not the word usually associated with the actress nowadays. She’s gruff and intense, and you could tell that if you tried to make small talk she would tell you to cut the bullshit. She would bark it, really, in that rasping voice that seems to sound more and more like gravel rolling around a barrel in the depths of the ocean as time goes on. This is not a voice you would naturally think of for a musical cabaret, but that’s one of the many reasons why this show works pretty well.
She goes all the way back to her upbringing as the child of a diplomat, moving around the world every few years. The specific childhood memories she recounted were the most fascinating stories of the night. Born in Missouri, she grew up in Cuba, where she became fluent in Spanish, and then moved to Venezuela after the embassy in Cuba shuttered. Her memorable story of a run-in with a family that also moved from Cuba to Venezuela and blamed her father for not getting the chance to move to America would sound fake but you can’t make that kind of thing up. I wish we could more stories about her fascinating life abroad, which eventually took her to London for high school. I don’t know if many in the audience knew that she had such strong ties here but you could feel a wave of respect for the sort-of kinsman take over the crowd, which by the way was all gay guys, middle-aged ladies who very vocally would respond ‘mm-hmm!’ ‘ohh yes’ and ‘wow’, and me.
As she shares snippets of these remarkable moments of her life, the band – her music director on piano plus a guitarist and bassist - would cut in with a few mostly recognizable notes as she launched into fitting songs for their position in the stories. Sometimes it was overly dramatized and I would have rolled my eyes a little at how unnecessary the drama was but I was enjoying seeing this larger than life woman in person too much. They mostly performed standards, many I knew, plus some newer songs and one that was written for her specifically (which was the weakest of the bunch). Her rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘Let’s Fall in Love’, a song usually performed cheerfully, was reminiscent of her earlier movie roles in its directness and boldness. I loved hearing some of my favorite musical theatre standards like ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught’, which felt much shorter than usual, and ‘On the Street Where You Live’, which was among the most moving parts of the show given its matching story. But the best part was when I thought ‘Man her voice really would be incredible on ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime’’ and then she sang it. The gloom of that song, the grim outlook, it works so well with the guttural roar she produces. Even when she would exhale during the speaking portions, it would come out like a low groan, like a storm was always rumbling.
One of her stories was about her famous theatre friend asking if she sang, to which Kathleen, never one to shirk from a challenge, said yes, and that’s how this cabaret was made. But her voice, a growl emanating from the deepest reaches, is not a pretty voice to listen to. I thought sometimes that there were too many songs to sit through. And yet it works with these songs and in telling her stories. This voice screams out for these old standards, as she seems like a throwback to another time too. And for the most part she is. Her heyday is over, but she is fighting to reclaim her place in the business now that her serious health scare is somewhat under control. And she’s defiant, about her place in the business then and now and whether she cares what you think about it all (she doesn’t). I loved how some of her stories about her movie career were so one-sided that you kind of knew she was leaving out important details, but it didn’t matter. These were her memories and if they don’t match with what someone else says about her, tough. The one weak song I mentioned was written about her extensive support and volunteer work for Planned Parenthood, and the matter-of-factness with which she talked about it, as if no one would object, showed that she knew no one would dare cross her on this. And sure no one would in that audience, and sure it’s completely different to talk about that outside the USA, but even so you could tell from her demeanor that she would be speaking of it with the same bluntness and confidence no matter where she was. The song lyrics were a little too on the nose about clinic happenings to be musically impressive, but I loved the approach to it and the fact that she performed this unabashedly in her life story concert.
Other highlights included a song in Spanish and a hilarious story about her time working with Francis Ford Coppola, and even he couldn’t escape her, let’s call it candor. I love that she is honest and assertive and doesn’t care about being nice, traits that usually end up producing people who are much better than anyone who cares about being ‘nice’. She is the epitome of someone who gives no fucks – which you could realize by the sheer fact that it’s Kathleen Turner doing a musical cabaret ffs - and I love it.
“Finding My Voice” is touring England until May 14. Google details if you live in like Horsham? Oh and it ends in Edinburgh and I know some of you live there.
She came out! She asked that no one take pictures but she signed and talked to me for a little bit until she found me boring and turned away which ya know can’t fault her for that. LOVES IT.