This week I had another birthday — but it wasn’t any birthday: Scott Alan threw a public birthday bash for me. And it was the best of my life!
St James Studio, London
Coming in the midst of the London Festival of Cabaret, Scott Alan leaves a very distinctive handprint on the genre. Typically contemplative, his songs touch emotions that are common to us all – love and loss, rejection and reflection. It is however in Alan’s sharing of his life with his audience, (where his pre-song spiel can often last longer than the song itself) that he re-engineers cabaret. Where earlier in the week this pied-piper of songwriting had assembled a phone-book sized guest list of artists to sing his work, tonight was one of a three-night residency simply featuring Cynthia Erivo alongside the songwriter.
I have written before of Erivo’s handling of some of Alan’s most sensitive work and as Broadway beckons, it is plain to see that she is not only one of Alan’s most cherished friends, she is also fast becoming a muse to his creativity.
With one of the strongest yet most perfectly controlled voices of her generation, Erivo brings a polished fragility to Alan’s soulful verse, her take on And There It Is displaying an almost ethereal impishness as her lightly smiling face belied a lyric of complex emotions.
When the pair occasionally duetted, their sensitive counterpoint added a depth. Always, which ended the first half was exquisitely rendered and later it was to be Alan who (surprisingly) delivered the opening lines of Anything Worth Holding Onto before Erivo joined him in a song of remarkable profundity that she has long laid claimed to.
The act one closer was preceded by a confessional to the microphone of the painful loss Alan still feels for Kyle, an ex-boyfriend now deceased. As Alan sobbed at the microphone, there was a sense of witnessing a man on a high wire, as this gifted composer continues to challenge his demons, though any hint of audience prurience or of performer-sensationalism should be swept aside. Alan continually battles his depression and chooses to do so, at times in public and at a piano. His message to those who criticise his on-stage confessionals was blunt. Knowing that his words have inspired other depressives to choose life, he values that contribution over a critic’s carping. It is impossible to fault the man’s integrity, nor to be inspired by his message.
It wasn’t entirely Alan and Erivo. Oliver Tompsett returned to the St James’ stage with a gorgeously nuanced Kiss The Air, Alan’s paean to his mother left bereft after his father’s abrupt marriage walk-out. Tompsett was also to earn an ovation when he was thrust (by Erivo) into joining her in Never Neverland, a song that was not only out of his range but one that he was also completely unfamiliar with. Tompsett rose to the challenge – and where Alan can often be a Lord of Misrule, subjecting his singers to impromptu set-list changes and additions, it was a treat to see him for once hoist with his own petard, Erivo delightfully calling the shots.
Their sold-out run ends tonight – and if Alan needs anything to hold onto at all it is knowing that whilst Erivo is in New York with The Color Purple, the two of them could pack out 54 Below every Sunday night for a year. Get ready to book your tickets, you read it here first!
St James Theatre, London
There was a deliciously different diversity that Scott Alan brought to his one-off gig at the St James Theatre. Entertaining a packed house for an eye-watering (almost) four hours, his guest list ranged from West End stars and TV Reality Show finalists through to audience wannabes.
The New York based singer/songwriter has strong friendships with many of musical theatre’s leading ladies and recent years has seen Cynthia Erivo evolve into a performer who truly gets under the skin of Alan’s writing. With a 3 night Alan & Erivo residency (sold out) about to start at the venue’s smaller Studio room, her inclusion on the bill was an unexpected treat. Erivo set the tone for the evening with her signature Rolls-Royce vocal performance – immense power couched in a silky, elegant style.
An Alan gig is never less than a ballad-fest and Oliver Tompsett, guesting with Darlin’ (Without You), sealed the atmosphere of soulful reflection. It was however to be Madalena Alberto’s take on Blessing, with its verses documenting the pain of Alan coming out to his mother, that brought many to tears.
In another moment of exquisite soprano serenity, The Phantom Of The Opera’s Christine and her cover, Harriet Jones and Emmi Christensson respectively, gave an enchanting interpretation of Always On Your Side. They proved a breathtakingly beautiful pairing, with later on in the evening and also from Phantom, Oliver Savile impressing too.
Anna Jane Casey offered an accomplished excellence to And There It Is, in yet another performance that spoiled the audience with the riches of talent that Alan is able to invite and it was a precious moment that then saw Sophie Evans, previously one of Lloyd Webber’s Dorothys and a finalist from the BBC’s Over The Rainbow, give a fresh nuance to Look, A Rainbow.
Newcomer David Albury performed one of the writer’s most popular numbers Never Neverland with an invigorating up-tempo beat – though in a delightful twist Alan was later to invite any audience member who wanted to sing the number, to join him on stage. Reminiscent of kids called up to a pantomime stage, this impromptu people’s chorus made for a moment that was free of all pretension, with some stunning yet to be discovered voices in the routine!
Elsewhere and away from established star names, Alan had unearthed via YouTube Nicola Henderson and Dublin’s Niall O’Halloran, two performers who shone in their brief moment of West End limelight. The Irishman’s Kiss The Air proving particularly powerful.
And there was just so much more to the gig – It speaks volumes for the professional devotion of Eva Noblezada, currently performing Miss Saigon’s Kim 8 times a week, that she could find the honed energy to sing Alan’s Home with a perfectly poised passion. Lucie Jones was shown somewhat less respect in a cheekily foof-fuelled intro from Alan, but her sensational Watch Me Soar more than answered her host’s irreverence.
Teamed with Craig Colton, Zoe Birkett’s The Journey was immense. Carley Stenson wowed with her usual aplomb and in a revelatory performance Danny-Boy Hatchard, aka EastEnders’ Lee Carter took Alan’s Now, a song written amidst the still bleeding wounds of a ripped-apart relationship and stunned the room again.
Alan famously wears his heart on his sleeve, speaking to the audience of his battle with depression and doing much to trample on the stigma associated with mental health. Above all his overarching message and one that many are likely to have found inspirational, is that life is worth holding on to. (Though the frequent references to his evening’s diet comprising white wine and Xanax could have been toned down.)
Supported on the night by a six-piece band that was all strings and percussion, Musical Director and drummer Ryan Martin delivered a perfectly rehearsed and weighted accompaniment.
As the gig came to a close Erivo returned. Broadway-bound this year as she takes her sensational Celie in The Color Purple to star in New York, when news broke of her casting Alan wrote her a song. At All captured Erivo’s excitement at the achievement of having landed the show’s transfer, yet crossed that emotion with her pain at having to leave her loved ones behind in the UK. Honest lyrics that reduced the singer to tears.
It was left to Sam Bailey to wrap a fine and moving evening with Alan’s cri de coeur, Anything Worth Holding Onto.