After my review of the first London edition of cabaret night If It Only Even Runs a Minute, I did wonder how the hosts Oliver Southgate and Lydia Grant would take my comments. Not everyone whose show was described as a “shambolic mess”, and whose delivery was described as “amusingly under-rehearsed”, would necessarily be happy about the reviewer in question.
As it turns out, they were fine with it. So fine that I was invited back by them for Monday’s second edition.
At its core, it hadn’t changed. There’s a fine line between being informally relaxed and being disorganised – a line which If It Only Even Runs‘s hosts display a tendency to use as a skipping rope.
Personally, I find their presentation style charming, especially because the calibre of Monday’s guest performers were so high. I was being comped, though: I do wonder whether, if I’d paid for the tickets out of my own pocket, whether I’d find it quite so endearing.
But to concentrate on that side of the evening is unfair – as I said last time, the quality of the performances (and, in particular, the guest performers) is the real focus of the evening. And in their second London show, the calibre of the guests shot up several notches.
In a series of cabarets dedicated to ‘under-appreciated musicals’, it seemed inevitable that the works of Stiles and Drewe would feature. April’s first show saw Chris Bartlett perform That’s the Kind of Man I Am from their recent West End show Betty Blue Eyes, and this week’s show topped that, with two numbers from one of their earliest shows, Just So, performed by the composers themselves. Does the Moment Ever Come is perhaps one of their finest ballads, and one that never fails to bring a tear to my eye – complementing it with the rhino’s fun number Thick Skin worked to a T, as did the couple’s easygoing anecdotes of their long working relationship with Cameron Mackintosh, which at one point saw them spend time in Hollywood, working with Steven Spielberg to develop Just So into a (sadly never made) animated movie.
Another couple of numbers formed a link to the Landor’s past with special affection for me. I Love You Because is a beautiful musical about the love lives of two New York-based brothers, and Robert McWhir’s 2007 production was my first experience of one of London’s best pub theatre spaces. Jodie Jacobs, who played Marcie in that production, is now the hands-down best thing in Rock of Ages (and in a cast that includes Simon Lipkin and Oliver Tompsett, that’s quite a feat, whatever the more po-faced, bug-up-their-arse critics may have you believe). Thankfully she was happy to give up her one night off to come back to Clapham and reprise the plaintive Just Not Now, just one of many great numbers from the show. And in a further surprise it transpires that the musical’s lyricist, Ryan Cunningham, has recently relocated to London, so he came along to perform Maybe We Just Made Love from the same show.
It was interesting to discover from Cunningham that it was a number they had originally considered cutting, because the audience were clearly starting to flag at that point in the show. To my mind, though, it’s a vital part of the story, where lead character Austin lets go of the attempt to woo back his old love, and begins to realise that Marcie might be the one for him. To lose that moment would be like losing the ballroom scene from Romeo and Juliet, the point at which Romeo foregoes his desire for Rosalind and shifts his attentions so drastically.
Only Colin Hanson’s performance saved the song from the axe – and while Cunningham’s own rendition is certainly not in the same league as that, it’s always fascinating to hear the lyricist of a song perform it, making sure to bring out the heart and emotion of the lyric even if their voice isn’t quite as strong as the performers who sing their words eight times a week.
Elsewhere in Monday’s repertoire, the Denis King/Dick Vosburgh musical A Saint She Ain’t was celebrated by a spirited performance of My All American Gal by Vosburgh’s grandson, Will Silverside. And Minute regular Chris Bartlett’s Who’s the Man? from The Witches of Eastwick was a terrific, overblown comedy performance from a man whose normal strengths are slower numbers. (That said, Chris is a great friend, and hearing him boast about having “testes two feet across” while he’s grabbing his crotch is a bit much for any mate to cope with.)
But for my mind, the two standout performances were from Rachel Jerram (performing Little Jazz Bird from the Gershwins’ Lady Be Good and the otherwise forgettable The Act by Kander and Ebb) and Daniel Cane, whose character-driven performances of Real Live Girl from Little Me and Roadster from Thrill Me ran the gamut from breezy comedy to blood-chillingly murderous. And from start to finish, apart from a short intercession where George Stiles took to the piano, all the vocalists were accompanied beautifully by Gary Jerry. Musical directors rarely get the recognition they deserve, and Jerry’s range and versatility demonstrate why that is so unfair.
If If It Only Even Runs a Minute can continue to attract the sort of guests that this week’s session managed, it deserves to do spectacularly well. All I would say is that the audience didn’t get much of a chance to applaud some of them, with the guests running offstage very quickly. A little more stage direction, a little more care over the tech aspects of the show (there’s really no need for Southgate to produce, present, perform and be in charge of the PowerPoint slides) and this nascent show will continue to improve.