Stephen Fry hosts a showcase of songs from new and exciting British musicals in aid of the production company Perfect Pitch. incontrovertible proof that the musicals genre is in rude health in this country, and deserved all it was awarded and more in the allocation of ACE funding last week.
Fry has been very vocal of late in his support of musicals, and with his trademark quirky quips made an extremely strong argument for supporting British musical theatre talent, highlighting that the collaborative nature of musicals mean that they are in particular need of funding due to the variety of input needed to showcase and get them off the ground. With such a powerful media presence as Fry behind the British musical, one can’t help but feel positive about its future prospects. Through his dominance of Twitter, he can dictate the (inter)national conversation in a way unparalleled by any other celebrity figure. His insistence that the future of the arts should never be left entirely to the free market, possibly to be replaced by a ‘leaner, more efficient Taiwanese version’ appealed to both the audience’s sense of humour and their concerns for their beloved theatrical institutions.
The performances that followed certainly proved Fry’s point. Extremely strong performances from Stuart Matthew Price (whose own composition ‘Where I Wanna Be’ was so impressive that it is currently downloading on my iTunes…), Julie Atherton and Michael Xavier lived up to the audience’s high expectations for these performers who have long been beloved by discerning West End theatregoers.
The night was also laced with a few welcome surprises – Emma Barton glistened with star quality singing ‘Do You Want a Baby Baby?’ from Dougal Irvine‘s The Busker’s Opera, with vocal talent and perfect comic timing evident in every phrase. George Stiles & Anthony Drewe themselves performed ‘Nobody’ and the title song from their wonderful new musical Betty Blue Eyes, proving themselves to be natural performers as well as legendary creators of contemporary music theatre.
Stevie Webb & Jack Shalloo also highlighted themselves as talents to watch with their rendition of ‘Long Sunday Afternoon/That Guy’ from Blood Brothers. As those of you that read my Billy Elliot review last week will know, I’m not a great fan of the show, but their rendition was so engaging that it did what I thought impossible and won me over (after initial groans at seeing the listing in the programme). Proof as ever how much of the enjoyment of a song is dependent on it being done justice by a great performance.
The audience were buzzing with enthusiasm, and packed with some famous faces. Most notable were the composer Michael Bruce – whose album Unwritten Songs I was listening to on the tube on the way to the Criterion – and whose song ‘Portrait of a Princess’ (starring Atherton) had its video go viral after a Twitter plug from Fry. Also spotted was the food critic Jay Rayner – a man who knows great food and appreciates a good musical – possibly the perfect date? Yet I digress…
A fantastic, if not perfect, night (the usual one-night problems of technical sound glitches affected some performances). I left with a spring in my step and a long list of new shows to explore. It’s going to be extremely exciting to see what Perfect Pitch come up with next. Star quality.