This was a glamorous night (yes, I know that’s by Ivor Novello): Joan Collins, Petula Clark, Richard Fleeshman, Michael Feinstein, Gloria Hunniford, Nanette Newman, Hayley Mills and Una Stubbs. And that was just the audience – plus Carol Thatcher and Jeffrey Archer for some hideous reason, although it was a great pleasure to see Gyles Brandreth buying their interval drinks because they weren’t on the guest list.
Pure Imagination is a first-ever compilation show anthologising the work, as composer, lyricist or collaborator, of “the British Jerry Herman” Leslie Bricusse – and boy, was he anybody’s for the offer of a collaboration – never too proud to accept a rewrite or ‘tweaking’ commission, and fitting in as easily to Hollywood as his home turf in the West End.
Not only will the catalogue of 51 songs blow you away, you’ll marvel at its panoramic diversity: it is little short of incredible that the lyricist of ‘Can You Read My Mind’ the Lois Lane song from Superman and poetically delivered by Julie Atherton, was also a writer of ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ which had the audience blithely singing along, none with more gusto than Hayley Mills – something I never expected to see when I fell in love with her in Whistle Down The Wind, the first film I saw with ‘real people’ in it.
It also seems that this was the man who single-handedly wrote the soundtrack to the 70s and 80s, and maybe the reason his musicals aren’t so frequently performed is attributable to the pretty shonky ‘book’ attached to most of them.
Saving the press-night presence of his ex-wife Dame Joan Collins and their daughter Tara, these musicals were also blighted by the extraordinary vowels of Anthony Newley, Bricusse’s writing partner and star of most of them … purged of his elasticated mockney diphthongs, so many songs come up cleaner and brighter in the hands of this excellent cast.
Fresh from the Tooting pie shop Sweeney, Siobhan McKenna rediscovers her jazz voice in a brassy ‘Feeling Good’, Dave Willets is resonant and commanding in many of his contributions particularly a neatly-reworked ‘Goldfinger’. Having known much of her work only through recordings, I’m delighted to lose my Julie Atherton live virginity and confirm what a warm, flexible and hugely talented performer she seems: it’s astonishing that this hasn’t dawned on impresarios who persist in casting lucky novices from reality TV competitions in leading roles instead of talented professionals like Atherton.
Equally, having ‘spotted’ Niall Sheehy in a difficult-to-sing three-hander by Alexander Bermange at the Landor, it’s great to see how capable he is with more familiar material although I do wish someone would tell him to shave. The 70s were the age of Gillette, not ‘Scruff’.
Among this brilliant company, the man of the match is Giles Terera. Saddled with the role of ‘The Joker’, an outsider figure like the narrator in The Fantasticks he triumps over mimetic choreography and a shabby costume to decorate every number with spellbinding vocal technique. Bricusse has already said he’s revising Sammy his 2009 Sammy Davis Jr musical with Terera in mind, and if he doesn’t get it, there’s no justice.
Choreography is sensibly limited and so makes the show a thousand times more effective than the last compilation car-crash here – the over-arch and over-produced You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have Any Jews. All the orchestrations are by tireless musical director Michael England and if perhaps there’s a repeating familiarity about some of them, it doesn’t quite detract from an enchanting evening.
Yes, I know that’s by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Don’t write in.
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