Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review Pure Imagination. The Songs of Leslie Bricusse.

Pure Imagination. The Songs of Leslie Bricusse.

Thank You Very Much

Years ago TLT,  when her jalopy was not even a twinkling nut-and-bolt on a conveyor belt,  saw the late Anthony Newley  in a 1989 revival  of musical  Stop The World - I Want To Get To Get Off, co-written by Newley and Leslie Bricusse. 

Now film and musical theatre composer Lesley Bricusse is back from California in London with a new memoir and a show, the world première of Pure Imagination, The Songs of Leslie Bricusse. 

It's a non stop Bricusse-fest from the moment the soaring harmonies of Pure Imagination fill the auditorium. Players, Dave Willetts  "The Man", Siobhán McCarthy, "The Woman" and younger generation, Niall Sheehy "The Boy" and Julie Atherton "The Girl", singing, descend the St James Theatre staircases from the audience, on to the stage.  

Devised by Bricusse, director Chrisopher Renshaw and producer Danielle Tarento, the production's whirling concentric circles of songs, written either alone or with an impressive list of collaborators, ripple through the show without the need for spoken narrative.  

A waterfall of musical scores sweep down literally and musically on to the glistening black St James stage with the song medleys linked by the five characters,  their relationships, projections (video: Timothy Bird), dance and symbolic props (musical staging: Matthew Cole).

Stage right  the accompanying versatile six-piece band, led by musical director and pianist  Michael England, testifies to the sheer range of Bricusse's opus from musical theatre through pop songs of the day and jazz to classic film themes. 

The characters,while updated for the mobile phone age and casually dressed,  pick up the archetypal spirit of the Marcel Marceau personalities inhabiting early Newley and  Bricusse hits, Stop The World and The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd

It's an invigorating mash-up of a life in song.

Initiating the stage action, Giles Terera, "The Joker" strolls on, a colourful patchwork suited, bowler hatted  hobo with coloured odd shoes, eventually inviting "everybody to come and dine ... and I will pay the bill" On A Wonderful Day Like Today.

Songs at first tangle themselves up with the speed of office life. 

Nothing Can Stop Me Now sung by Sheehy before a trip to the country with tartan picnic rug and Atherton's red-apple-fresh "Out Of Town" keeping up the pace,  through to Beautiful Things from Dr Doolitte (yes, he wrote Dr Doolittle!) with McCarthy and Willets before we land in Pickwick politics "Gandhi, Mandela and me ... If I Ruled The World" ... 

On to the Hollywood studio lot with an iconic sexy star tended by red aproned make up girl and Love Is ...  from the university studient Bricusse's  Cambridge Footlights' time  before he was plucked out to star with comedy revue star Beatrice Lillie. And there always will be Paris with more songs and love rivals and the inevitable broken heart.  

Then hardly stopping to inhale, back to the rehearsal room piano and costume trunk for a knees-up celebration of London. Bricusse wrote the lyrics to Lonnie Donegan's My Old Man's A Dustman, who knew?!!. Thank You Very Much from Scrooge and The Good Old Bad Old Days from the eponymous music give a rousing end to the first act.

A change-of-tone slinky Le Jazz Hot led by McCarthy opens the second before Willetts and Sheehy launch slickly into the James Bond themes. And who can resist when Terrera's The Candyman from the Willy Wonka movie tosses out sweets "for the critics"! 

Finally having travelled far through a sometimes crazy world, the show two hours older, having made us musically wiser about Bricusse's life in songs, McCarthy leads the cast in Feeling Good (famously covered by Nina Simone).

All the performances are as polished as the shiny St James Theatre stage with the natural stand-out of jester figure Giles Terera including a teardrop-in-the-voice What Kind Of Fool Am I.   

But every performer, hardly needing the mikes, encompasses the gamut of styles from musically Chaplinesque to hot jazz with powerful but nuanced ease.

Interestingly the show also includes unused work and songs from future shows (although with  histories typical of the entertainment world's ups and downs) including lyrics written to instrumental music of Gershwin and Tchaikovsky. 

With Bricusse himself and wife Evie, Newley's former wife actress Joan Collins and chanteuse Petula Clark among the slew of celebrities in the audience, this could only be a Feeling Good evening, dedicated by Bricusse to his friend and musical arranger Ian Fraser who died last year.

 For anyone with a tad of interest in the development of musical theatre or just out for a showstopper-packed night out, this is a must-see. A green light.

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