Nick Barstow is a multi-hyphenate of a different order – musical director, arranger, and composer, a behind-the-scenes triple threat if you will. And having made a success of his cabaret series RE:arrangement, he’s now released an album RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow which showcases his gift for reinventing musical theatre standards by the likes of Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Kander and Ebb, with the help of some guest stars including Faye from actual Steps.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the name of the album, some of these arrangements really are quite radical and really serve the purpose of making you look at these songs anew. So I can admire the decision to transpose the elegiac beauty of Ivor Novello’s ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ into full-on Jason Robert Brown territory (or is it more Jonathan Larson…?), delivered with real commitment by Noel Sullivan, whilst still craving the crystalline harmonies of Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbert. It’s just different is all.
The inventiveness of Barstow’s arrangements is a constant thrill. The wit and warmth of the barbershop quartet-inspired take on Frozen’s ‘Fixer-Upper’ is inspired, pulled off brilliantly by Barstow, Sullivan and Andy Coxon. And Coxon’s free interpretation of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ finds a new searching emotion (one not often associated with Andrew Lloyd Webber), backed by a brilliant arrangement for piano which is full of interest.
Dragging ALW to the jazz club also pays dividends with recent Elphaba Alice Fearn’s highly charismatic version of ‘With One Look’ which ought to be the highlight of her next album/cabaret/wedding. And Sondheim receives a similar kind of transformation as ‘Old Friends’ becomes a shimmering piano ballad, sung beautifully by Barstow with The Clockmaker’s Daughter herself Jenn Harding. At just eight tracks, expertly edited and mixed by Joe Davison of Auburn Jam Studios, RE:arrangement definitely leaves you wanting more of its refreshingly bold take on musical theatre standards.