If It Only Even Runs A Minute: Celebrated London Début at The Landor Theatre, Clapham

The Very Clever Company Pays Tribute to closed West End and Broadway Shows, at The Landor Theatre, Clapham

Monday 23rd April 2012 (Review by Fiona Lister)

Last night, The Very Clever Company presented the highly entertaining If It Only Even Runs A Minute, at the Landor Theatre in Clapham. If It Only Even Runs A Minute is an award-winning concert series celebrating rare songs amalgamated with commentary, photographs, critics’ reviews and behind-the-stage anecdotes from dearly missed, closed musicals. If It Only Even Runs A Minute: London Edition 1 marks The Very Clever Company’s London début and I can’t wait to see more concerts!

The celebrated, award-winning concert series began life in New York where it was created by Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Kevin Michael Murphy and Caleb Hoyer. The show is a Time Out Critics’ Pick in New York. Celebrating its ninth edition, the New York series has run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, Le Poisson Rouge, New York Musical Theatre Festival–American Theatre of Actors Chernuchin and Caroline's On Broadway. Over the last two years shows have featured Tony-nominated and Tony-winning performers and composers including: Lisa Brescia; Heidi Blickenstaff; Ann Harada; Julia Murney; Anthony Rapp; Mary Testa; Kate Wetherhead, and Lynne Wintersteller.

Productions can sometimes close for reasons that theatregoers, writers and producers are at a loss to understand – some well known musicals by genius writers receive rave reviews from theatre critics only for them to close after a few months.

Produced and directed by the young, debonair Oliver Southgate for The Very Clever Company Limited, If It Only Even Runs A Minute paid tribute to a selection of loveable shows with popular and lesser known works from ten older, as well as contemporary musicals, including: Closer Than Ever (Music by David Shire and Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jnr.); Lend Me A Tenor (Original play by Ken Ludwig, Music by Brad Carroll, Lyrics and Book by Peter Sham); I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Music by Jimmy Roberts, Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro); Flora The Red Menace (Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Book by George Abbott and Robert Russell); Myths and Hymns (Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel); Bad Girls: The Musical (Music and Lyrics by Kath Gotts, Book by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus); Side Show (Music by Henry Krieger, Lyrics and Book by Bill Russell); Ordinary Days (Music and Lyrics by Adam Gwon); Annie, Get Your Gun (Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields); A Man of No Importance (Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Book by Terrence McNally; Betty Blue Eyes (Music by George Stiles, Lyrics by Anthony Drewe) and Two On The Aisle (Music by Jule Styne, Book and Lyrics by book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green).

Oliver Southgate, the young brains behind the London concert series presented the evening’s entertainment, together with his bubbly blonde co-presenter, Lydia Grant. The talented duo introduced each song and artist, highlighting the musicals with photographs and pictures of the cast and actors, together with critics’ quotes projected onto a screen.

Musical Direction was by Kris Rawlinson who accompanied the Only Even RunsEnsemble and guest stars at the piano. The Only Even Runs Ensemble opened the show with the song ‘Doors’ from the musical Closer Than Ever. Georgia Thomas gave a terrific performance singing ‘Miss Byrd’ and reminded me a little of the late Broadway comedienne Madeline Kahn – she sounds very much like her. I last heard ‘Miss Byrd’ performed by Beverley Klein in her A Spotlight On… show, also at the Landor Theatre. Closer Than Ever with music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. is a musical revue in two acts, containing no dialogue, and was developed from Steven Scott Smith’s one act revue entitled Next Time Now! The songs focus on themes including ageing, midlife crisis and unrequited love. The York Theatre Company in New York is currently reviving this classic Off-Broadway hit to open on 5th June, 2012 for a limited run until 14th July, 2012, at The York Theatre at Saint Peter’s. Directed by Richard Maltby, the production will feature additional songs for this already beautifully written show, which began its life at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts during the Summer of 1989.

Kelly Chinery who played the role of Maggie in the recently closed Lend Me a Tenor The Musical, entertained the audience with hilarious anecdotes about her on-stage mishaps and demonstrated what happens when you skid arse over tit in a pair of tap shoes during an audition. I couldn’t stop laughing. Chinery moved effortlessly from comedy straight into the songs ‘Fling’ and ‘Lend Me A Tenor’ (sung with Christopher Bartlett in the role of Tito Mirelli).

Lend Me A TenorThe Musical, with Music by Brad Carroll and Book and Lyrics by Peter Sham, opened at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, on 24th September and ran until 6th October 2010, after which it transferred to London's Gielgud Theatre on 15th June 2011, closing on 6th August 2011. I was desperately sorry to see this charming 1930s Cleveland Comedy Musical about the mistaken identity of renowned Italian Tenor Tito Merelli, taken off the West End Stage. I have seen this musical three times, and each time the entire audience was roaring with laughter as men dashed about on stage wearing tights. The farcical plot contains lot of double entendres, innuendoes, and dastardly guises. I still can’t believe this is no longer running – a great shame. It’s the only musical I’ve ever seen where a member of the cast sings with a loo brush clamped between her teeth in a seduction scene. Based on the original play written by Ken Ludwig, Lend Me A Tenor was not a musical until 2004 when the author and lyricist Peter Sham got together with composer Brad Carroll. The production was first shown at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and went through a number of revisions and workshops on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite having had a highly successful run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, last year (September 2010), the show received difficult reviews and ticket sales were sluggish. Starring Matthew Kelly who was brilliantly funny, this was of the most entertaining West End shows I’ve seen, boasting a set resembling the inside of the Palace of Versailles. Gold, bright purples and beautiful ornate objects das sparkled beneath the shimmer of the stage lights, a scene so befitting an eccentric Italian tenor. Joanna Riding also starred in this musical. Prior to this Joanna had appeared in Kneehigh Theatre’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand)also at the Gielgud Theatre, which similarly closed after a limited run, shortly before Lend Me A Tenor opened.

Gareth Heesom gave a tremendous, spellbinding performance with ‘Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With you?’ from I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Music by Jimmy Roberts, Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro). I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award for an Outstanding Off-Broadway musical in 1997 and is the second longest running Off Broadway musical. Since its inception in 1996 this musical has been on quite a journey – being performed in Bromley at the Churchill Theatre and at London’s West End Comedy Theatre in 1999, followed by a revival at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2005. This intriguing production was translated into Mandarin Chinese and ran in Beijing in 2007, and was performed in Tapei that same year. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change has been translated into over fourteen languages and has played all over the world, including more recently in Mexico City and in Oslo. There was also a run at the Bridewell Theatre, London in 2011. I can’t wait to see what happens to this show in the future.

Gareth Neeson sang with Tash Holway and the Only Even Runs Ensemble in ‘Come Look at the Freaks’ from the musical Side Show (by Henry Krieger and Bill Russell), and in ‘Private Conversation’. Side Show is a musical about Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who make a change from being a circus act to becoming famous stage performers in the 1930s. Side Show opened on Broadway on October 16, 1997, and ran for 91 performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. It was nominated for four Tony Awards in 1998. Although the show didn’t win them, the leading two actresses were co-nominated for Best Actress in a Musical which they would have jointly won. They sang at the awards ceremony.

Oliver Southgate and Georgia Thomas gave a fantastic performance of ‘I’m Trying’ from Ordinary Days (Music and Lyrics by Adam Gwon). In particular, Lydia Grant’s heartfelt performance of the beautiful song ‘I’ll Be Here’ moved the audience to tears. Similarly, Thomas Sutcliffe gave a heart-rending performance of ‘Streets of Dublin’ from the award-winning A Man Of No Importance by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (based on the book by Terrence McNally) about a Dublin based amateur theatre group whose director wants to stage Oscar Wilde’s Salome at his church. The Landor Theatre continues to champion the work of Ahrens and Flaherty, having just staged ‘The Glorious Ones’, a bawdy Commedia dell’Arte musical, ‘Lucky Stiff’, and ‘Ragtime’ which won the Landor Theatre three OffWestEnd Theatre Awards and was nominated for Best Musical Revival in the Whatsonstage Awards last year. Thomas Sutcliffe from Wicked stunned the entire audience. Thomas possesses the most incredible, mesmerizing voice which when mixed with a light Irish accent entrances everyone. Hearing him sing is pure theatrical alchemy.

Based on prison drama series, Bad Girls, Bad Girls: The Musical with music and lyrics by Kath Gotts and Book by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus, originally ran in June 2006 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds before its run at the Garrick Theatre in 2007. However, the show closed after two months, but is still being produced in fringe productions. In fact, I recently noted a performance was running in Godalming, Surrey. Nicole Faraday who played the role of evil jail bird Shell Dockley in both Leeds and the West End recounted her memories of playing the role and sang ‘Guardian Angel’ and ‘Baddest and the Best (Reprise)’. Nicole won the TMA Award 2006 for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical for her run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and was nominated for the Whatsonstage Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical 2007/2008. Nicole played Snowball Merriman in the ITV Bad Girls series, with Debra Stephenson in the role of Shell Dockley. Nicole Faraday is a punchy, earthy performer – a natural comedienne who certainly made everyone laugh. ‘Baddest and the Best (Reprise)’ is a terrifically powerful song. I could imagine her in a Wild West musical staged in a saloon amongst gunfighters, gamblers and cowboys.

Betty Blue Eyes by George Stiles (Music) and Anthony Drewe (Lyrics) is still greatly missed in London’s West End. When this show closed theatreland went into mourning. This colourful, vibrant production starring an animatronic porker certainly livened up Austerity Britain over at The Novello Theatre in Aldwych. Based on the acclaimed film A Private Function by Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray, this witty musical comedy is set in Shepardsford, a small Yorkshire village, two years after the Second World War. The original television comedy (1984) starred Michael Palin and Maggie Smith, and just like the hilarious film there’s a comical fast-paced script containing lots of twists, turns and piggy tomfoolery. The musical score features 1940s swing and one of the most memorable songs ‘Nobody’ (sung by Sarah Lancashire). Despite the rave reviews and the timely story being set during the preparations for the impending royal nuptials of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip (Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding was that same year), Betty Blue Eyes closed after six months. Everyone was shocked since the quality of this show was exceptionally high. Even today, when I walk into the Novello Theatre, I still meet theatregoers who all say “Betty was wonderful. That show was incredible.” There is such a Betty fan club out there with many desperately wanting to see this show staged for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – even for a one-off performance. Despite Betty’s early closure, it was nominated this year for three Olivier Awards. Oliver Southgate read a story sent to him by George Stiles, explaining how he travelled to Holland in order to record Kylie Minogue’s voice for Betty. George couldn’t wait to meet Kylie. He recorded her voice straight onto his laptop and has kept the treasured recording on there ever since.

Christopher Bartlett sang ‘The Kind of Man I Am’, originally sung by Reece Shearsmith in the character of Gilbert Chilvers, a suffering henpecked husband, who is not living up to his wife’s vision of the perfect man. Gilbert, a chiropodist, is greeted like a hero amongst the local women who flock to him for foot massages and prodding of their corns and calluses.http://www.bettyblueeyesthemusical.com/

‘Sing Happy’ from Flora The Red Menace, a musical written by John Kander with Lyrics by Fred Ebb (Book by George Abbott and Robert Russell), was sung by Lydia Grant. The original production opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on 11th May, 1965 and closed on 24th July, 1965, starring a young Liza Minnelli. The New York Times reviewer wrote: "The voice [of Minnelli] is not yet distinctive... She is going to be a popular singer, all right. It (Flora the Red Menace) has the appearance of being pasted together with bits and pieces. A promising idea has not been enlivened by a creative spark.”

Christopher Bartlett and Georgia Thomas gave a brilliant performance of ‘Anything You Can Do’ from the well-known musical Annie, Get Your Gun (Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields). The award-winning Annie, Get Your Gun is a hugely successful musical, having appeared for long runs on Broadway and the West End – a fictional story of Annie Oakley, the American sharpshooter, who ended up starring in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

The set of songs finished with ‘If (You Hadn’t, But You Did)’ from the musical Two On The Aisle (Music by Jule Styne, Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) sung by Tash Holway. Tash Holway is a young performer with an incredible stage presence – a diminutive brunette with a powerful voice who gives a wholly engaging performance. Watch out for her in 2012.

Oliver Southgate and the founding creators of the original New York Concert series of If It Only Even Runs A Minute (Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Kevin Michael Murphy and Caleb Hoyer) have recognised the need to showcase work by some of London and Broadway’s finest composers, lyricists and writers. Bringing this show series to London is a popular move. Musical theatre stars love performing in these concerts and The Very Clever Company is keeping the spirit of truly great musicals alive. It’s also lovely that theatres like The Landor are hosting shows that pay tribute to these musicals.

There is no doubt that the London début of If It Only Even Runs A Minute was a tremendous success. More of this!

Other mentions must go to Abbie Procter (Stage Management), Will Fox (Lighting), Emily McDonald (Production Secretary) and to everyone at the Landor Theatre – Andrew Keates (Theatre Manager), Robert McWhir (Artistic Director) and Andrew Tottle (Theatre Secretary).

Please click here for details of shows at the Landor Theatre: http://www.landortheatre.co.uk/

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