Reviewed – 10th August 2019
“It’s a delight to see such a young cast take on Herman’s music”
Tough week? Life getting you down? Then hurry along to the Union Theatre in Southwark for some musical therapy. Showtune, a two act tribute to the music and lyrics of the perennially upbeat Jerry Herman, will give you The Best of Times, and (I) Promise You A Happy Ending in this lively revival of Paul Gilger’s Jerry Herman fest. Produced by Sasha Regan, Showtune takes place in a charming auditorium underneath some railway arches. It is an intimate space that produces a surprisingly big Broadway sound, and you will be impressed by the skilful direction and choreography of Luke Byrne that permits a cast of ten to sing and dance without falling into the laps of the front row.
There is lots to like in this ninety minute medley of songs from Herman’s hit musicals. The music includes several from Mame, Hello Dolly!, Mack and Mabel, Dear World, and La Cage Aux Folles. The cast manage all these in a performing space that is crammed full of the flotsam and jetsam of a rehearsal room, complete with a suggestion of a dressing room, and of course, a grand piano. Somehow the cast work around these obstacles to keep the audience’s attention firmly focused on the singing, and yes, even a tap dancing number (Tap Your Troubles Away). In these endeavours they are ably supported by the talented Henry Brennan, pianist and musical director. It’s a delight to see such a young cast take on Herman’s music, and while the singing is at times a little uneven, special mention must be given to Aidan Cutler for his poignant sound; and to Alex Burns and Ella-Maria Danson for their spirited singing duel in Bosom Buddies. But the whole cast brought off the complicated ensemble numbers with verve and nerve — and was rewarded by an appreciative audience.
Showtune reminds us that Jerry Herman’s heartfelt songs are the perfect antidote for our stressed out modern lives —and if some of the lyrics hark back to a more old-fashioned age (It Takes A Woman from Hello, Dolly! for example) — it is also Herman’s inspiration to give us an opportunity to see two men sing a tender duet to each other (Song On The Sand from Cage Aux Folles). There is enough flexibility in Herman’s work to ensure that a compilation musical like Showtune has many years of successful revivals ahead of it. Enjoy this one.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith
Union Theatre until 24th August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Bridge House Theatre
Reviewed – 1st December 2018
“For all its narrative flaws, it would take a stonier heart than mine to resist this dose of festive cheer and performance by a talented cast”
First things first: the vocal skills on display in this show are great. So great in fact, they unfortunately serve to highlight an at times baffling plot.
The Plaids are a sixties close harmony group who, in the Forever Plaid musical which precedes this, lose their lives in a tragic accident but return to earth to seek stardom. This instalment sees them again travel from the firmament to regale us with festive delights because … well, a convincing reason is elusive.
This doesn’t really matter, but it also becomes apparent that it’s the Plaids’ lifelong ambition to have their own Christmas TV special. This is one of several indications of a critical challenge for audiences: a Pacific-sized gap in cultural reference which is hard to traverse. For American viewers for whom the annual variety show is a central part of the holidays, this would make more sense.
The central premise, then, feels weaker than a melting icicle. But the musical performances are great fun; we find ourselves hankering for the next song during dialogue expounding the curious narrative. Lines are delivered with sometimes excessively earnest if admirable gusto, and one or two of the accents are America by way of the UK. In such a small venue, the brio (and later, the handbells) can border on the overpowering.
The studio space, above a great-looking pub, does allow for the full benefit of the music, especially in the fun a cappella Sha-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream). Musical Director Laurie Denman on the piano as well as voice is especially cracking, with a rendition of Kiss of Fire bringing comedic physicality into the slower first half. Later, ‘Twuz Tha Nite B4 Xmas introduces a welcome slice of funk to cut through the saccharine and It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas has us swaying. Passing mention must be made of fact that during the music and movement, the noisy stage surface becomes an occasional distraction.
Plaid Tidings first came about in a California theatre following the bleakness of 9/11. Arguably, we’re again in dire need of an injection of gentle fun. But Pasadena in 2001 is a long way from contemporary London, and some of the clumsier elements are at odds in the diverse south of the capital. There is an uneasiness in affecting the required Jamaican accent (‘she take ma money and go Christmas shopping’) during one audience singalong. The group wisely limit the Caribbean affectation, but what remains jars today. Equally, the group’s apparent horror when they find themselves under the mistletoe is lazy; is the idea of men kissing really so shocking in 2018?
The evening closes with a collective rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The audience applauds enthusiastically. For all its narrative flaws, it would take a stonier heart than mine to resist this dose of festive cheer and performance by a talented cast.
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith
Bridge House Theatre until 23rd December
Other shows reviewed by Abi Davies: