Friday, 16 October 2015

Review Close To You. Bacharach Reimagined

Close To You. Bacharach Reimagined
Music Burt Bacharach and Lyrics Hal David
Co-conceived by Kyle Riabko and David Lane Seltzer 

The Old Music Master Remastered

The age of downloads has led to an inter-generational appreciation and study of great song writing as never before.   It's also probably led to the popularity of a show like "Close To You", with  twentieth first century arrangements of mid twentieth century classics by octogenarian Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David.
Starting with a spotlight solo "Anyone Who Had A Heart" with Canadian Kyle Riabko  on guitar followed by "This Guy" and the first of a recurring refrain of "What's It All about" (from Alfie), the show follows musical themes and patterns rather than an instantly recognisable musical theatre narrative. Whole songs are embedded with slivers of others,  giving a seamless sonata quality to the musical medley expertly choreographed by director Steven Hoggett.

And, with Burt Bacharach present on press night, maybe one can say there is an outside narrative - real life merging with theatre. Emerging from a demo session when he played new material by the  composer, the show is the brainchild of twenty something Riabko alongside David Lane Seltzer with the old masters, Bacharach and David (before his death), giving their blessing.  Once such protegé back stories were away from public gaze, now it's part of the marketing of the show. 

The talented seven-strong cast play instruments varying from guitar to percussion (ah, rhythm is all!) to piano to ukele to double bass (and maybe shades of an electric organ?). 

While artistes as diverse as Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black, the Carpenters, Whitney Houston, Tom Jones, Sammy Davis Jr have interpreted the songs of Bacharach, David and  collaborators, the septet work to bring fresh rock, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, reggae sounds to the thirty three songs in the show.   

Hits such as What The World Needs Now Is Love, Walk On By, This Guy's In Love With You and many more. 

In some ways a musical equivalent of sitcom Friends with Riabko at its centre, the show plunges the cast into an impromptu jam session in a kooky boho apartment. Walls are clad with a higgledy piggledy of  musical instruments, a turntable, even sofas,  suspended above a patchwork of carpet, rugs, chairs, speakers and lamps.  And joining in the cosy façade created by designers Christine Jones and Brett Banakis with lighting by Tim Lutkin, some audience members sit on squashy sofas on either side of the stage. 

Inevitably for anyone of a certain age, affecting, nuanced recordings have already colonised the mind. Yet the show's aim is Bacharach reimagined in a style for a twenty first century global audience - the generation of mass musical education, easily accessible downloads of song archives, of Glee,  X-Factor and The Voice. In that it has proved already in New York and an earlier run in at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London under the moniker "What's It All About?" very successful. 

And is there more of an affective patchworked narrative within the musical clichés? Or at least a colouring of  music history as the business changes tack from  solo artiste interpreting the songwriter to the rise of singer songwriter, personified in Riabko's vocals with acoustic guitar, then of the group, natural or manufactured. 

Maybe tinges of a "Merrily We Roll Along" story and even the show's publicity image with an almost ironic twist,  reflecting the psyche of music besotted generations:  the image of the magnificently talented ethereal James-Dean like solo singer, eyes on musical heaven, but still a babe magnet

The singers - at first free-moving atoms across the stage - become like rotating figures contractually glued (letters received and torn up) on a turntable, singing however joyously and  beautifully.  

The slivers of story give way to more of a concert second act, a slick and mature rendering of hits echoing the first act but also reflecting organically the amalgam of current musical influences.

Yet this is way too analytical! Give yourself up to the music and your own non-copyrightable musical nervous system, shaped by a century or so of American recorded music,  and life will shape its own narrative. A superior hall of musical mirrors, the change from "What's It All About?" to "Close To You",  gets a green light from TLT. 

PS Video of Burt and the cast outside the Criterion in Piccadilly Circus - for once it wasn't raining in London for Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head! Ah memories of those heady pre-video and internet days when TLT queued (yes, queued!) to see Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid at her local fleapit, even if she later abandoned her bike for the engine beneath her theatregoing wings ... :)

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