Christina Bianco: O Come All Ye Divas, Charing Cross Theatre, London ★★★★★

Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:

Christina Bianco has made a name for herself as a comedy impressionist of some renown, specialising in mimicking a range of larger-than-life singers.

In this new Christmas variation of her show, Bianco’s love of the festive season and her Anglophilia combine to produce a near-perfect evening of raucous laughter.

After introducing any audience members unaware of her talents with a quick smattering of her key impressions – from Snow White to Stevie Nicks – the Christmas elements of the show kick into high gear with a rendition of what Bianco describes as the “most overdone” Christmas song, ‘O Holy Night’.

A succession of divas emerge, including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Christina Aguilera and Kristen Chenoweth. Even when Bianco doesn’t quite nail the vocal impression, her ability to mimic a diva’s particular body language quirks and improvisational riffs compensate to ensure each impression is impeccable.

But this sequence is merely a prelude to an extended impression of Celine Dion. Visually and vocally Bianco is never more spot-on than here, but it is her ability to capture Dion’s conversational stagecraft that really drives the humour.

Another big Christmas-based centrepiece is a dramatic reading of Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as if performed by a variety of voices, interspersed with straight renditions of ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch’ from Chuck Jones’ 1966 animated adaptation.

And it is in this sequence that Bianco deviates the most from her self-confessed “divaholic” tendencies, including impressions ranging from Sharon Osbourne to former TOWIE star Amy Childs, TV presenter Lorraine Kelly and even Peppa Pig.

Some of these are more successful than others. Peppa and Childs are spot on, as are her impressions of Sarah Jessica Parker and Miley Cyrus, but her Mrs O sounds rather more like Julie Walters’ Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, and Bianco’s generic Scottish accent doesn’t really capture anything of note about Lorraine Kelly’s vocal stylings.

It is refreshing, though, to see an American comedian gleefully mix such quintessentially British personalities alongside the more globally recognisable impressions.

Another Christmas-based focus of this show consists of Yuletide standards delivered as if by a wide range of divas. Some of these are pre-prepared, including impressions of Florence Welch performing ‘All I Want For Christmas (Is You)’, and a bombastic (and Bond-tastic) Shirley Bassey performance of ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’.

But what really puts Bianco and her four-piece band to the test are a series of performances with performer and song matched randomly with the help of the audience.

Seeing Bianco discuss quickly with her musical director, the infectiously sunny Joe Louis Robinson, and the band about how to deal with each new combination helps illustrate the versatility and talent of all five musicians.

Indeed, Bianco’s long time MD Robinson takes a growing role in this production, from a poignant rendition of ‘The Perfect Year’ from Sunset Boulevard to cover one of Bianco’s costume changes, to joining in a hilarious take-down of the sort of Christmas song that Bjork might perform. That easy charm radiates throughout the show, with a warmth that can’t help but be shared by the audience.

Some of the components of Bianco’s regular act are retained here, especially a dry reading of Barbra Streisand’s design book in the voices of everyone from Drew Barrymore and Katie Price to Elaine Paige (with trademark snorting giggle) and Cheryl Cole. But the vast majority of the show’s content turns the Christmas charm up to maximum, and the result is an evening of seasonal comedy that should be on everybody’s wish list.

Continues until January 7.