Online via Stream.theatre
Reviewed – 21st April 2021
“the songs are so samey that it takes away any sort of specificity or distinction from the show’s voice”
Song cycles often have a sense of purity about them. Unrestrained by trivialities such as plot or character arcs, they’re a platform for composers, lyricists, and performers to put their talents centre stage with a diverse range of songs framed around a loose connective theme. It’s a compelling and proven format, and can launch careers if done well – see Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, for example. In Pieces, however, doesn’t quite manage to hit the mark.
Assembled from songs by Joey Contreras and directed by Louis Rayneau, In Pieces is a musical film from Future Spotlight Productions, focusing on the pieces that make up the love lives of eight unconnected New Yorkers (and their dance ensemble). The songs explore typical romantic moments such as crushes, first kisses, and wistful run-ins with ex-partners using the pop-heavy anthemic musical theatre style that Pasek & Paul have dominated new musicals with through the likes of Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman. Unfortunately, In Pieces suffers from all of Contreras’ songs sounding like this.
With every song being so similar in style, length, and subject matter, it causes the show to tonally flatline and brings the pace down to a crawl. Contreras’ music is certainly easy on the ear, but there are only so many ballads on wanting to be loved you can hear in a row. There are some standouts, however: Jordan Luke Gage brings some earthy angst with This is Not Me, Beccy Lane delivers poignant storytelling with Another New York Love Story, and Hiba Elchikhe and Luke Street ratchet up the tempo with I Could Fall. The opening and closing songs, which feature the whole cast, give the opportunity for some absolutely gorgeous harmonies and make you wish there were more group numbers outside of those bookends. All the cast are on top form vocally, particularly Kyle Birch, who constantly impresses without ever coming off as showy.
There’s also some great choreography on offer from Rachel Sargent, especially in numbers such as First Sign of Forever where it’s utilised for some really sweet storytelling. Other times, the use of the dance ensemble feels underthought, or neglected by the cinematography. The filming took place in Kidzania, a child-scaled indoor city in London, presumably to try to evoke New York, but it unfortunately makes the set look somewhat tacky and amateurish.
It’s clear that In Pieces was made with the best intentions: everyone commits 100% to the material, and it’s great to see the unabashed queer representation and celebration on display. However, the songs are so samey that it takes away any sort of specificity or distinction from the show’s voice, and as a result In Pieces struggles to engage.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Liz Heinrichs
Online via stream.theatre until 26th April
Reviewed by Ethan this year:
Bare: A Pop Opera
Reviewed – 26th June 2019
“the unevenness of the ride took away from the power of the piece as a whole”
The Vaults had quite a buzz on last night: the house was packed to the rafters, and there were a few celebrities and attendant paparazzi knocking about. Having only been there for the festival, it was fun to see the whole of the end bar area given over to a production, and the space was completely transformed by the addition of a raised traverse stage. The ramped-up atmosphere definitely spoke of this production as ‘an event’, so it was something of a surprise to discover (in very small print in the programme) that this was, in fact, a revival of a piece premiered in California in 2000.
The premise is a simple one: two boys in the graduating class of an American Catholic high school are in love. Their love is secret from their family and friends, and they also struggle with feelings of guilt within their faith. The graduating class are performing Romeo & Juliet, and this cauldron of adolescent love, guilt and desire finally brims over, with tragic consequences.
The UK is currently suffering an upsurge in anti-LGBTQ attacks, particularly in the face of legislation over inclusive sex education, and there is therefore no doubt that this is, unfortunately, a timely staging. Despite this, Bare does seem somewhat dated. The Romeo and Juliet forbidden love trope is well-used, and Stacy Francis’ role as the sassy Sister Chantelle – though splendidly sung – is now most certainly a cliché.
Though a fair amount of lyrics were lost in the ensemble pieces, as well as in some of the smaller cameo moments, the energy and commitment of the cast was undeniable throughout, and there were some stand-out performances. Darragh Cowley sang beautifully, and perfectly captured the conflict between Jason’s inner and outer selves; Georgie Lovatt was sensational as Nadia (this is her professional debut and we will most definitely be seeing her again) and Jo Napthine was electric in her big solo number in the second half.
The second half was much stronger than the first – both musically and dramatically. The two duets, See Me and Cross, packed a much-needed emotional punch after the rather bland pre-interval soundscape, and Lizzie Emery, as Ivy, finally got to show us her musical theatre chops in her terrific solo All Grown Up. It was just a pity that all the musical and dramatic heft came in the second half, because the unevenness of the ride took away from the power of the piece as a whole.
There were a couple of arresting set-pieces, in which Stuart Rogers’ choreography was perfectly complemented by the lighting (Andrew Ellis) and sound design (Ross Portway), but there was also a fair amount of unnecessary movement which was distracting and didn’t seem fully realised. As it stands, Bare is a pretty solid evening of musical theatre (opera doesn’t seem right) with an undeniably important message, but there’s a leaner, more devastating piece fighting to get out.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Tom Grace
Bare: A Pop Opera
The Vaults until 4th August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: