Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs from shows that did not last particularly long, and to different degrees their 2010 and 2011 shows, Blink! Twice and Blink Again!. There probably won’t be a 2012 version, as Above the Stag’s home of The Stag pub was recently closed as part of the redevelopment of the area around London Victoria station.
A series of concerts on the same theme has been running at New York’s Joe’s Café for a while now. And while each iteration of Blink! was a show that would repeat each night, If It Only Even Runs a Minute promises to be different each time, as befits a series of occasional concerts. The beauty of that format is that it can be as flexible as possible, and allow many guest stars to make a one-night commitment to perform songs from shows that they were in.
Last night saw the first in a hopeful series of UK equivalents at the Landor Theatre. And while it was a bit of a shambolic mess at times, it was at the very least a loveable mess, with some cracking performances.
Lend Me a Tenor, a fun musical that didn’t manage to last long at the Gielgud Theatre last year, was showcased by Kelly Chinery (Maggie in the Plymouth production) and If It Only… ensemble member Christopher Bartlett. While the two numbers from the show were grand, it was Chinery’s personality, and her tales of her own humiliation onstage and off set a bar for the rest of the evening that, to be fair, were never likely to be matched.
A smattering of other comedy numbers raised more than a smile – from Closer Than Ever’s Miss Byrd, to Anything You Can Do from Annie, Get Your Gun. But it’s important to provide a variety of pacing, and there were several beautiful, less well known ballads in the programme as well. To my mind, the two standout performances in this regard both came from Thomas Sutcliffe, whose renditions of Awaiting You from Adam Guettel’s Myths and Hymns and Streets of Dublin from Ahrens and Flaherty’s A Man of No Importance genuinely provided that all-too-rare, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck experience.
Oliver Southgate and Lydia Grant’s narration, amusingly under-rehearsed though it was, did sometimes threaten to stall proceedings (though maybe not as much as Nicole Faraday’s rambling reminiscences of her time in Bad Girls – both the TV series and the musical adaptation). And Grant’s rendition of I’ll Be Here from Ordinary Days can be faulted only because the first time I heard that song was when it was sung by Julie Atherton in Trafalgar Studios’ recent production, which set the bar far higher for me than is probably reasonable.
The format, then, is a perfect one, and a little more care given to the presentation will pay off well. One downside is that the Landor’s default configuration doesn’t exactly lend itself to the feeling of informality that the show demands. At the venue’s A Spotlight On… cabarets, the addition of a few onstage tables help soften the otherwise hard straight lines of the audience seating, and if If It Only Even Runs a Minute returns to this venue, maybe that’s something that could be considered.