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:
Reviewed – 6th November 2018
“this moving piece about love and solidarity, humanises history and brings the forgotten to the foreground”
As Remembrance Sunday is coming up this weekend, with particular poignancy, as it will mark a hundred years since the armistice, Brass seems the most appropriate piece of theatre to watch this week in the capital. Originally commissioned by National Youth Music Theatre in 2014, Benjamin Till’s World War One musical now makes its professional premiere at the Union Theatre. Dramatising real life stories and people from the time, this moving piece about love and solidarity, humanises history and brings the forgotten to the foreground.
The war has been raging on France’s frontlines for a year. Alf, conductor of one of Leeds amateur brass bands, has decided it’s time for him to enlist. With not much encouragement, the rest of the band also agree to sign up, no man wanting to be left behind. After some very basic training, they are packed off across the English Channel, with spirits high, ready to fight the Krauts and become heroes. It doesn’t take long before the true horrors of war reveal themselves. The cheery days in the band seeming like a distant memory.
Back on home soil, the wives, girlfriends, and sisters of the men are left in Leeds to pick up the pieces, everyday, fearful of receiving the dreaded telegram reporting their loved one’s death. But these women aren’t sitting in wait; they bravely do their bit for the war effort, working at the Barnbow munitions factory. Through the correspondence sent between the men and women, the audience are transported back and forth between home and the ravaged front, proving the power of words in sharing love, encouragement, and reassurance.
The most refreshing part of this production is having a story that evenly tells of both men and women’s trials and tribulations during The Great War. As incomprehensibly horrific as being in the trenches must have been, seeing your friends killed right before your eyes, it is just as hard-hitting hearing about those treacherous times through the female perspective. With sensitive sophistication, Brass is a multi-faceted exploration of the devastation war brings to every member of the family.
Benjamin Till’s music ranges from haunting lamentations to raucous morale-boosting ditties, which help to bring light and shade into the show. Most songs are rather unmemorable, yet still excel at moving the story onward, offering the emotional clout needed. The power of the cast’s voices is exemplary, creating gorgeous harmonies that can be spine tingling. With just the Musical Director, Henry Brennan, on the piano, this basic set up gives space for the singing to take centre stage.
Highly moving and heartfelt, Brass compels you to reflect, and make sure that the lives lost to the war are not forgotten.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Mark Senior
Union Theatre until 24th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: