As a nation, we’ve come to expect impersonation of former singing stars to be accompanied by dry ice, sliding doors and Matthew Kelly. No matter how many Stars In Their Eyes she may have, though, Deirdre the housewife will, after her three-and-a-half minutes of fame, still be a housewife.
When Kate Dimbleby dons the peroxide wig to become Miss Peggy Lee, however, she assumes the mantle of star that deserves to stay with her.
Dimbleby relates the tale of the singer, who was born Norma Deloris Egstrom, through a variety of songs from all eras of her long-running career. The monologues that intersperse the singing similarly jump about, from Norma’s discovery by jazz legend Benny Goodman, to the failure of her marriage to the alcohol-soaked David Barbour, back to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepmother.
Despite the potentially heavy material though, both Dimbleby’s charisma and writer Lucy Powell’s script keep the darker side of Miss Lee’s life, as the woman herself did, backstage, letting the voice, the presence and the wonderful songs speak for themselves.
In itself, this is another blessing: Dimbleby is quite obviously far more comfortable imitating Peggy Lee the singer rather than in spoken form.
The cabaret-style setting is an undoubted advantage, with the enforced intimacy of the King’s Head allowing Dimbleby to connect with her audience far more easily than a larger venue would permit. Even here though, the modern world creeps through. Somehow one imagines that _These Foolish Things_, _I’m a Woman_ and _He’s a Tramp_ deserve to be viewed through clouds of cigarette smoke and with the scent of bourbon mash in the air. A no-smoking policy and a hint of diners’ roast chicken don’t seem quite right.
After the interval, Dimbleby seems to drop the narrative monologues altogether, opting for a raucous and fully enjoyable romp through some of the highlights of her heroine’s back catalogue.
And it is here, where the reluctant actress fades away and the singer emerges, that you begin to care less and less whether or not you’re watching Kate Dimbleby or Peggy Lee. If the seats weren’t packed so tightly together, everyone would be dancing.
Fever has been dubbed a one-woman show, but that only gives credit to one quarter of the cast. The youthful backing trio of Julian Hinton on piano, Jonty Fisher on bass and an impossibly fresh-faced Ben Reynolds on drums play their entire set with great smiles on their faces: when the band is having this much fun you can’t help but join in.
One almost misses the fact that, come the leading lady’s first bow, she hasn’t even sung the title number. That little problem is not overlooked for long, and is definitely worth the wait: as Kate Dimbleby encourages the audience to provide the finger-clicking accompaniment, she launched into Fever with a sultriness that even Miss Lee, in her prime, could hardly manage.
With a sassiness and sense of humour that cannot fail to please, Dimbleby proves that she is indeed one hell of a woman – W-O-M-A-N…
* This article was originally written for Gay.com UK