Monthly Archives: June 2011

Michael Bruce & Guests – The Pheasantry, King’s Road

Image from garidavies.me.uk

 An evening of top-quality entertainment – Michael Bruce’s unique repertoire was brought to life in sparkling renditions from the brightest and best performers of music theatre.

I do love a cabaret. My first real steps into music theatre were at uni when I sang with Music Theatre Bristol over a very happy four years in the Mandela Bar. I’ve missed it ever since. There are many wonderful things about a full show, but there’s something great about the more low-key, unscripted intimacy of a small cabaret – not constrained by plot and instead getting to the point – showcasing fabulous songs.

This evening had it all – numbers ranging from hilarious comedy to tearjerkers – along with the only-on-the-night mix of spectacular stage falls and intra-cast banter. We took our seats close enough to be at risk of getting black eyes from the guitar, and before long the 60-seater space of the Pheasantry was filled with a good-humoured appreciativeness for the sheer talent and passion on display.

Michael Bruce is a young British composer whose work personifies almost everything that is right about new music theatre – his songs are beautiful and powerful, with a lot of laughs along the way. ‘Portrait of a Princess’, an irreverent (and explicit) take on the life of a Disney heroine (written especially for Julie Atherton) has become an internet sensation – if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat:  http://www.portraitofaprincess.com/ . Sadly Julie wasn’t there to perform due to illness, but the comedy song slots were more than adequately filled with the hilarious ‘I Want a Man’ and Helena Blackman’s rendition of the cheeky ‘This Christmas’.

Yes, there were a couple of Christmas songs in June, but along with Stef Booth’s lovely performance of ‘Children’, they were of such good quality that the summery context didn’t matter at all. ‘Children’ won Bruce the Notes from New York competition in 2007 that kick-started his now booming career (he has recently written the score for Much Ado About Nothing starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate at Wyndham’s Theatre) – it’s almost too important to leave out, whatever the weather.

Whilst the comedy songs were tantalising, Michael Bruce is no one-trick pony. Two performances from Paul Spicer – of ‘Even Then’ and ‘Unwritten Song’, were hugely emotional. The lyrics cut right to the quick, betraying far greater insight and maturity than one would expect of Bruce’s 27 years. Listening to ‘Unwritten Song’ – that gives his album both its name and final track, and was written for his mother who passed away last year, it would take a heart of stone not to be moved. Keep an eye on this one – I for one am extremely excited about watching his career develop.

Act One   1.  My Kind Of World – Tori Allen-Martin  – 2.  Even Then – Paul Spicer 3.  I Want A Man – Amelia Adams Pearce/Tori Allen-Martin 4.  Looking Back – Ben Alyn Francis/Phoebe Fildes 5.  It’s Not Gonna Rain – Helena Blackman 6.  Someplace Beyond The Moon – Phoebe Fildes 7.  Money, Honey –  Dale Page

 Act Two  1.  Don’t Wanna Leave You Now – Michael Bruce 2.  What Do You Do? – Amelia A- Pearce 3.  Away – Sam Edwards 4.  Children – Stef Booth 5.  This Christmas – Helena Blackman 6.  Unwritten Song – Paul Spicer7.  The Musical Theatre Song – Michael Bruce

Michael Bruce’s debut album, ‘Unwritten Songs’ is available from Dress Circle, iTunes and Amazon.co.uk.

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Rent – at Questors Theatre until June 18th

Image from wlmht.nhs.uk

A well-choreographed, energetic production of the Jonathan Larson classic. Some fantastic performances (yet they unfortunately share the stage with a couple of glaring vocal errors). The production of this difficult musical about AIDS in early 90s New York seems pretty popular with the audience though…

‘Rent’ is a funny musical – and by funny I mean a bit odd. It has some fantastic, stand-out songs. ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ and ‘Seasons of Love’ are irrepressible, universal and quirky – just what Larson did best. However, I’ve always felt that a couple of good songs, a bit of controversy and very little else are what has carried it to worldwide fame. Rent lacks a central, involving storyline. Focussing on a disparate group of friends, three love stories and the underlying themes of living with AIDS and ‘La Vie Boheme’, any production could be forgiven for the audience not quite getting the point in the first half, until the narrative speeds up and ties together loose ends towards the finale.

This Questors production does an admirable job, supported by some hugely promising and consistent performances – from Rea Campbell-Hill (Angel), Peter Beaven (Tom Collins) and Martin Keddie (Benny), whose vocals and characterization were faultless. Sadly the female leads came off less well. Each proved that they could sing in certain songs (the very difficult to pull off ‘Over the Moon’ was tackled with gusto and success), but were inconsistent in delivery between numbers, culminating in the complete murder of ‘Take Me or Leave Me’. On the bright side, the company numbers were fantastic – ‘Seasons of Love’ was done complete justice, with a member of the ensemble delivering an accomplished solo performance.

The choreography and staging were great (though the very obvious stage hand ‘door-movers’ were a little distracting). It captured the garish colours and fashion of the early 90s, though I am unsure about the prolific use of cell-phones as a period detail…

Questors is an interesting venue for this project. On arrival, the impression is of a leisure centre – wooden clad box office, large-print, black and white directions to the toilet. Then a local library atmosphere takes over as grey-haired volunteers eagerly offer assistance in finding seats, and finally the impression is of a pot of gold – a glass of wine (perfectly good as well I might add) for £1.80? I’ll be back! Despite the seeming clash of cultures between material and audience (most were obviously using their OAP concession status), the show seemed to be a hit amongst the audience, culminating in a standing ovation from one partcularly enthusiastic man with roughly 70 years under his belt. Hurrah for diversity! Maybe this show has a wider appeal than I thought.

Rent is running at Questors, Ealing’s Theatre, until Saturday, 18th June.

 

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