Union Theatre, London – until 7 July 2018
I love to cry at theatres – and last night was a great chance. A birthday treat for my daughter, we headed to the Union Theatre to revisit the work of the amazing John Bucchino. Anna has been singing his songs in different settings for 15 years. Some of the reviewers of It’s Only Life still seem to talk of him as an unknown American songwriter, which is a shame – let’s hope this production is the start of an awakening of awareness.
Tania Azevedo (director) working with Nick Barstow (MD), William Whelton (choreographer) and Justin Williams, Clancy Flynn and Jonny Rust (designers) have together created a colourful world in which each of the song-dramas can unfold. There is space to relish Bucchino’s extraordinary poetry and storytelling, and I am sure producer Katy Lipson will be rightly proud of this gem of a show.
The challenge with any song cycle is to describe it in such a way that it feels satisfying and appealing on a flyer. When Side By Side by Sondheim was first launched in 1975-6 it had Millicent Martin and Ned Sherrin as bankable names from their time with TW3, plus it was hosted at Cleo Lane and John Dankworth’s place before being spotted by a young Cameron Mackintosh.
When Closer Than Ever, the song cycle closest to my heart, opened in Buxton in 1992 it had a first class but not locally known cast and was produced by young producer Michael Rose before his big breaks, the lovely Library Theatre and me at Buxton. The amazing Roger Haines and a young Les Butterworth designed a world and Matthew Scott created a musical shape – we even had David Shire over to help us. But no one knew Maltby and Shire and Buxton and Manchester were at that time a massive distance to travel psychologically for West End producers. It played our two theatres and then went no further.
Marketing new work, or work by relatively unknown writers with fine but unknown creatives and performers, is a challenge for every emerging theatre producer. The team are blessed by being under the banner of the rapidly rising Katy Lipson, and to have part of the team from Hope Mill Theatre back in Manchester. Manchester is now on the new musical map, in the way it was when the Library & Forum used to mount 8 musicals a year alongside plays and pantomime – the reps of old. I hope this will not be the last 2 weeks of the run of this musical revue – it is too good and too well done to disappear again. And if this production doesn’t go forward, I hope regional producers and theatres will consider it as a rich studio piece for their heart-full and truly grateful audience
When you go in the next two weeks, as I hope you will, listen carefully to the depth of lyrical heart which is John’s work, together with the oft unnoticed complexity of his musical scoring to enhance the emotional message and drive. Is it a tear-jerker ? Yes for musical theatre song lovers, and especially when the performers land their magic which they do almost every song. Go explore and then take a further look at John’s songwriting.
It was great to hear Anna and MD Nick Barstow highlighting some of the songs that were missing from the show with quick musical acapella for Director Tania Azevedo. Thank you John for faxing through your sheetmusic to Anna back in 2004. We continue to love your songs and cheer your ongoing writing.
Lovely to see The Union Theatre under Sasha Regan buzzing with the new bar and sunshine dappled courtyard – and the burgers are extraordinary. Try one…maybe between two.
This was a quick break from Catalyst Festival which this weekend finishes its 8 play run at the Karamel Theatre and we move to Theatre503 for 12 premiers in 2 weeks. Mad – but it will happen and will be worth a visit to see the work of 12 emerging theatre producers who have commissioned work for you to see.
Truly Grateful…and looking forward to a holiday