St James Theatre, London – until 17 October
Who can take a set list? Sprinkle it with class……
… as through two hours a delicious cast of 5 chart a course through nigh on 60 of the songs of lyricist Leslie Bricusse. Unashamedly a ‘juke-box musical’, the show marks producer Danielle Tarento’s first foray into that genre, with a combination of both song snatches and entire numbers as Bricusse’s remarkable body of work is referenced and respected.
There is however something distinctive to Pure Imagination that sets it apart from most of the other shows that have been fashioned out of back catalogue cash-cows and which currently clog London’s theatres. First and foremost, Bricusse is a wordsmith whose career has seen him partner a diverse range of composing collaborators.
Sure the man has penned a few melodies himself, but that the show includes tunes from those Atlantic-straddling greats including John Barry, John Williams, Henry Mancini and of course Anthony Newley, leads to a collection that is close to a chocolate box of surprises. Who knew that (under a pseudonym) Bricusse had lobbed in the lyrics to Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle delight, My Old Man’s A Dustman, which with honky tonk piano brought on centre-stage, gives rise to a rather wonderful almost knees-up in the first half!
True to form, Tarento draws a talented company to stage the show. Veteran Dave Willis is The Man, oozing panache and flair with every number and in an exciting Who Can I Turn To? proving that he still is, very much, the man. Opposite Willetts, Siobhan McCarthy is The Woman, bringing a measured maturity to her share of the numbers, her act two opener a sizzling, Fosse-infused, Le Jazz Hot a delight.
Other special moments include Willett’s laconic Bond-fuelled take on Goldfinger (even if he channels more Moore than Connery) with perhaps the cheesiest/wittiest segue ever as The Man smoothly segues into Talk To The Animals from Giles Terera’s feline Pink Panther (yes, there were lyrics to that iconic signature tune) Terera’s Joker offers talent elsewhere too, making spines almost tingle in his What Kind Of Fool Am I and giving a stylishly sassy take to If I Ruled The World.
As The Boy, Niall Sheehy brings a younger perspective to some numbers, with Jekyll & Hyde’s This Is The Moment proving particularly special. Completing the cast, Julie Atherton brings her hallmark polished poise to the production
That the band’s sextet outnumber the actors speaks volumes for the creatives’ vision and much of the evening’s credit is due to Michael England’s immaculate arrangements and pinpoint musical direction. Mention too for Richard Coughlan, whose finely fingered bass work enhances the production’s jazz.
Chris Renshawe directs with a wise touch. Old enough to understand Bricusse’s legacy, Renshawe keeps his finger firmly on a contemporary pulse, ensuring a style that works for today (even if the numerous selfie gags are a touch laboured)
The pure imagination of Bricusse, Tarento and Renshawe has created a confection of a show that blends nostalgia and wit with a generous splash of excellence. It all makes for a charming night out.
Runs until 17th October 2015