Caroline O'Connor and her The Showgirl Within is the second imported musical theatre act I have seen in the space of a week at the Garrick. Jason Robert Brown's concert performance on Saturday night was a hard act to follow, but O'Connor's performance is equally impressive.
O'Connor takes her audience on an autobiographical trip through hits of her career and songs she wishes she had sung. A collection of heartfelt introductions tie the pieces together, from her childhood singing in the bedroom in front of the dog to wowing Baz Luhrmann and others at auditions for various musical roles. Highlights include Ethel Merman, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf, all of whom she has portrayed on stage or screen.
O'Connor gives her four backing dancers most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the choreography, while still managing to appear effortlessly in motion at all times. As strong as the young quartet are, their efforts fade into the background when O'Connor, the ultimate seasoned professional, joins them on stage. And, while this leading lady impresses at all times with her standalone cabaret set pieces, it's her appearance in the tiny frame of Edith Piaf at the end of the night that best demonstrates her impeccable ability to deliver character through song.
Her close relationship with musical director and arranger (and fellow Australian) Daniel Edmonds is evident as he sympathetically conducts throughout the evening, dotting the band's performance with some assured piano solos. With such solid support, listening to O'Connor sing is an event more distinct pleasure. Her power belt is superb - the second act opening, a rendition of "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret, could literally bring down the house, and the curtain call encore of "Broadway Baby" brings back all the magic of her performance at the Sondheim Prom earlier this year.