A show conceived, devised, cast and performed within the space of seven days? It sounds like something out of Challenge Anneka or many other TV programmes that work to a ridiculous, self-imposed deadline. Like those shows, this cabaret of musical theatre songs impresses given the amount of time available, but could have been so much better with a decent amount of preparation.
Starting with a false opening of Rachel Loughton performing the title song from Thoroughly Modern Millie before being interrupted and corrected may have seemed like a good idea on paper. In reality, though, it’s a joke without a punchline. Considering the number of fluffed lines and other missed cues that peppered the evening, it also set the tone in a way that the production team must surely be rueing.
When the songs go without a hitch, however, there are some tremendous performances to be enjoyed. Of particular appeal is Harry Morrison, who demonstrates how a powerful voice married with an appreciation of great comic timing can win an audience over. His rendition of Kander and Ebb’s ‘Sara Lee’ proves the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre first act, although his own contribution to the company’s rendition of Big Spender runs a close second.
In contrast, while James Wilkinson, the other male member of the cast, demonstrates a fine ability to understand and convey the emotion of the lyrics he’s performing, unfortunately he often struggles to make himself heard above the piano accompaniment. Much of the time one feels that he’s pushing himself a little too much with songs that his voice cannot cope with. Menken and Schwarz’s Co Close, from the Disney musical Enchanted, for example, is a real test of a male singer’s upper range, and Wilkinson is in not insubstantial company for not being able to manage it.
Indeed, it is when the musical selection dips into ballad territory that the weaknesses start to emerge. Loughran in particular struggles to deliver much character into her performances during the slower numbers, only revealing a sense of comic timing near the end of the second act that it would have been much better to see throughout. Terrie-May McNulty is more consistent across the varied song styles on offer, with her rendition of Show Boat’s ‘Just My Bill’ proving a particular highlight.
There is little sense of a theme in the songs selected here. Although a couple of occasions provided some interesting segues — from ‘Sara Lee’ to ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ from She Loves Me, for example, of following ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ with another number (mis)quoting the Bard — much of the time it felt like the repertoire was thrown together very quickly. Which, of course, it was.
With a little more planning, some more appropriate song choices for the cast and plenty more rehearsal, this group of performers would work far better together. As it is, the evening was enjoyable if not outstanding. The seven-day experiment may not have worked here, but it would be churlish to ignore the hard work all have clearly put in.
Bridewell Theatre, London, March 28, 2010
Directors: Lydia Milman Schmidt, Dawn Kalani Cowle
Producers: Mack and Mac Productions
Cast: Harry Morrison, James Wilkinson, Rachel Loughran, Terrie-May McNulty
Musical Director: Aaron Clingham
Running time: 1hr 40min