Having recently come back from holiday, and being grimly convinced that nothing nice would ever happen to me again, Tim McArthur’s revue of littler-known Kander and Ebb numbers proved to be precisely what I needed to lift the London gloom.
Held in the charming Jermyn Street Theatre, a black-painted cellar of a place devotedly run by its Trustees, who are often to be found serving at the tiny box office and bar, it is by no means the most polished of evenings, but is alight with enthusiasm and joie de vivre.
The production brings together songs from the triumphant hits Cabaret and Chicago, together with those from less well-known shows including The Rink and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. There is no dialogue, which might have made for an incoherent evening had the songs not been put together with a kind of logic, so that the transition from one to another rarely jarred. Courageously, they include only one song (Cabaret‘s Money Money) that might be reasonably called famous; the remainder were, to me at any rate, fresh to the ear. Knowing snatches of All That Jazz may be heard here and there, but perhaps mercifully that old war-horse never makes a full appearance.
The performances are not perfect, and began rather nervily, but in the intimacy of a very small theatre the occasional rawness or slip is rather engaging. Particular delights include Laura Armstrong’s gleefully bawdy rendition of Everybody’s Girl (from Steel Pier), which included a memorable flash of green satin knickers, and Marc Joseph’s exquisitely understated I Don’t Care Much (from Cabaret). Sarah Redmond is blessed with a soulful voice that catches in her throat in just the right places but in The Grass is Always Greener (from The Woman of the Year) and It’s A Business (from Curtains) proved herself an adept comic. Tim McArthur perhaps lacked fizz of the rest of the cast (curiously, since he choreographed the performances), but his powerful voice, shown to best advantaged in title song Coloured Lights, was a pleasure.
Pianist and musical director Stephen Hose ought really to be knighted for manfully thrashing out a sparkling accompaniment over the course of two hours. At one point the cast wheeled the piano to centre stage as he played a tricksy introduction, which made him neither turn a hair nor miss so much as a semi-quaver.
The discreet staging coloured light bulbs, of course, hang from the ceiling, and there is judicious use of coloured hats and feather boas enables the cast to evoke Thirties’ Berlin, a South African jail cell, a theatre director’s office, with no more help than the songs provide. To rely solely on the lyrics and music of Kander and Ebb, without the forgiving contexts of elaborate sets and costumes or a storyline, is brave indeed. This is no high-gloss evening but is perhaps all the better for it.