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Phoenix Arts Club

EDGES: A SONG CYCLE at the Phoenix Arts Club


“Each number is a standalone gem”

It is often the case that when artists achieve a degree of success, in whatever field they operate, their early back-catalogue is revisited. Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Olivier Award-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are best known for their work on ‘La La Land’, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’. “Edges – A Song Cycle” was written when the pair started working together as freshmen at the University of Michigan in 2005. Having both been involved in the school’s musical theatre production, they were inspired to create their own a year before they graduated.

It shows its age in the pared back revival at the Phoenix Arts Club – and it also shows the author’s age at the time of writing. The lyrical content of the fourteen songs focuses on the trials and tribulations of moving into adulthood, with the inevitable and somewhat predictable moments of self-discovery. There is no narrative as such that links the musical numbers. Instead, each song is a tale in itself. A recital; rich in structure and harmony, and lyrically strong despite a few dips into the clichés of self-doubt. The opening song is the main culprit with its chorus of ‘I’m afraid to be who I am’ – but Pasek and Paul do redeem themselves when the cycle comes full circle, and the line is rephrased for a rousing finale.

Between the bookends, the fourteen songs are chapters in which the characters bear their souls, their dreams, their doubts and yearnings, anxieties, frustrations and loves lost and gained – from the various perspectives of friends, lovers, parents and siblings. The influences extend beyond musical theatre, with echoes of modern American songwriters appearing throughout. Billy Joel’s ‘Movin’ Out’ is strongly referenced in the second upbeat number (unfortunately no song list was available at the performance), while shades of Randy Newman, and even Carol King, permeate throughout the evening. Each number is a standalone gem, but when strung together over time they do lose a bit of their colour. Like a monochrome festoon, of fairly low wattage.

“The sole accompaniment is piano, but we can hear the potential of full arrangements in our heads thanks to musical director’s Ben Ward’s fluency and eclecticism”

But the performances light up the piece and bring it fully to life. The characters are named simply Man One, Woman One, Man Two and Woman Two; played respectively by Cameron Collins, Holly Adams, Gareth Evans and Maia Gough. Individually their voices are perfectly suited to the material and faultless in their delivery. Collectively, the close harmonies are simply a joy to the ear. Taylor Jay’s staging uses the basement club to great effect, allowing the singers to move between two stages within the space. End-on for the most part, the characters drift occasionally from the mainland to an island out in the auditorium, from which the more plaintive, solo numbers are delivered. The sense of isolation is heightened, particularly when reaching out to a counterpart on the main stage.

The sole accompaniment is piano, but we can hear the potential of full arrangements in our heads thanks to musical director’s Ben Ward’s fluency and eclecticism. Ward mixes virtuosity with sensitivity, following the moods of the lyrics with a conductor’s flair and judgement, seamlessly connecting the song vignettes with an invisible thread.

It is a thread that is only just held together, despite the fine performances and craftmanship of the compositions. There is an overriding question of where it is going, or what this is all for. The song cycle has the air of an early demo, found in the loft. Or a bonus-track CD. Whether it can straddle the crest of the wave its authors are riding is an unavoidable challenge. But for eighty minutes we can ignore the speculation and enjoy the retrospection instead; allowing ourselves to drift back in time to witness the gentle poignancy of a fledgling American song writing duo.

EDGES: A SONG CYCLE at the Phoenix Arts Club

Reviewed on 21st January 2024

by Jonathan Evans



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EXHIBITIONISTS | ★★ | King’s Head Theatre | January 2024
ALAN TURING – A MUSICAL BIOGRAPHY | ★★ | Riverside Studios | January 2024
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THE ENFIELD HAUNTING | ★½ | Ambassadors Theatre | January 2024
KIM’S CONVENIENCE | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | January 2024
REHAB THE MUSICAL | ★★★ | Neon 194 | January 2024
COWBOIS | ★★★★★ | Royal Court Theatre | January 2024



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