How's My One and Only going? "Well, the West End is taking a bit of a battering at the moment, but we're doing relatively well, and the show still feels very fresh. It's an open-ended run, and as far as I know, it'll certainly be on until next year."
Some people were a bit concerned about how it would transfer from Chichester. "There was some talk about the Piccadilly being too big, but if anything, given the reaction we've had, we could have done with a bigger theatre! The Piccadilly has quite an intimate feel to it, which suits the show very well."
You're now getting ready for Divas at the Donmar. Can you tell us anything about it? "Sam Mendes said I could sing anything I wanted, and I'm always keen on doing English songs, especially new ones. I've got several that were written for me, and I'm mixing them with some well-known American show numbers.
"Although part of me would like to do a show entirely composed of new work, audiences like to have some old favorites that they know well, so I've learned from that and am having songs by Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Michel Legrand as well as newer numbers." You also sang in the Richard Rodgers centenary gala at the Coliseum recently? "Yes, with Sally Burgess. I've always been fond of Rodgers' work, both with Hart and Hammerstein."
You've been in a lot of hit shows, including My One and Only, of course. Have you ever had any flops? "Yes! I suppose Can-Can is the main one. It was one of those shows that in auditions seemed like great fun, but once we were in rehearsals we realized that however hard we tried, it simply wasn't going to work. Though it did run three months."
Have you any plans to work with Alan Ayckbourn again? "Alan came to see My One and Only, and we had dinner afterwards, during which he said he wanted to get me 'back onto the proper stage' — by which he meant straight theatre at Scarborough! There seems to be a feeling that musical theatre isn't 'proper' acting, which I obviously disagree with."
The Americans seem to take musical theatre much more seriously. "They do, and they also have a much punchier attitude to singing. That's what I admire about them — there's a love of, and celebration of, showbusiness that's also about celebrating life. When Shirley MacLaine or Liza Minnellii go onstage, they really rip themselves open in front of you.
"Performing songs, onstage, means everything to them, and they're not afraid to be entirely up front about it. There's none of this English — "Please excuse me, I'm so sorry I'm alive" business. And when I'm onstage at the Donmar, I'm going to go for it, like them. There'll be songs, and some talking between them, in the Variety style, and also some guest spots."
Why guests? "I was watching Clive Rowe at the Donmar when he was doing his Divas week, and I saw him notice me out of the corner of his eye, and I thought it would be really exciting if he just stopped and asked me if I'd like to come up onstage and sing with him!
"So for my week I've asked some friends if they'd be prepared to do just that. It would be unfair to take them completely by surprise, so I've asked in advance if they'd be up for it, and I've got several lined up, including a couple of very big name, who'll remain a secret until they appear."
Have you any other stage projects lined up at the moment? "ATG are going to be coming to watch the Divas show, as we've discussed my doing a one-woman evening for them at some point. It'll be a useful test for both of us. I like company onstage, so if I feel a bit lonely (and that's one reason for having the guest spots), then I won't take the idea any further, but if I really enjoy it, then it's an idea I'd like to develop. I'll let you know!"
Janie Dee can be seen in My One and Only at the Piccadilly Theatre, and, from Aug. 5 to 10, in the Divas at the Donmar series at the Donmar Warehouse.
—By Paul Webb