Jerry Herman Showtime
Conceived by Paul Gilger.
Piano & Vocal Arrangements by James Followell.
The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 24 August 2019.
Tues- Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 40 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Review: William Russell 10 August
Jerry Herman is arguably Broadway’s greatest composer of show tunes. There are greater composers of musicals, but few have his knack for creating a show stopper song for a star and this show beautifully directed and inventively choreographed by Luke Byrne does his work full justice. The ten strong cast can sing and musical director Henry Brennan at the piano provides fine accompaniment. There are omissions from Herman’s catalogue. it is not clear from the programme who compiled the running order and selection, other than that it was “conceived” by Paul Gilger. To be blunt Herman’s songs presented like this tend to sound ever so slightly all the same. You could slot them in to different shows quite easily. Knowing where they came from would help.
I would have preferred if instead of just a straight song and dance along show there had been some narration, although it is possibly old fashioned these days to do that. But Herman did, for instance, write songs for the film of Mame which were not in the show, he provided a different opening number for Streisand in the film of Dolly – Just Leave Everything to Me – than the one used in the theatre – I Put My Hand in Here. He wrote a ballad for Streisand for the film – Love is Only Love – and a couple for Merman – Love, Look in MY Window and World, Take Me Back – when she did it on Broadwayl. But they fitted seamlessly in and a comparison would have been interesting to make.
However that is not what this little pot pourri show is about. The cast were not miked and most of the time were hitting the back wall, except for one duet when director Byrne had placed the couple in a corner at the back of the stage for no very obvious reason. These days of microphones this clarity of lyric is to be praised. The players may, if their careers go well, be miked for ever and a day but all singers should be able to rise above the accompaniment. The nice thing is everyone got a chance to shine, and took it, notably Daniel Wallace, the smallest of the men who is blessed with impish and slightly camp jeune premier looks, quirky eyebrows and rather good legs – he got to sport black tights for one number from Cage Aux Folles. Of the girls the red heads – Alex Burns and Ella-Marie Danson – fared slightly better than the blondes and the brunette but it is really neither here nor there. It is probably just that they got the better numbers.
One just hopes some agents go along to see the show. It would be a journey not wasted. The best thing about it, however, is that director and choreographer Byrne knew what he wanted and got it out of his cast. They do Tap Your Troubles Away from Mack and Mabel, which is almost thrown away, when some directors would have embarked on getting the cast tapping frantically. They do a tap routine but it is not a moment for grandstanding.
There are some songs which deserve inclusion in any selection of Herman’s work not there, but no matter. What is there is enough. The Union, the fringe home for musicals, has come up with a well dressed show – nobody credited – as good as one is likely to see in a month of Sundays – or even Saturdays. I would still have liked some words, some context. They would do well to have a look at the Jerry Herman Song Book. But you can’t have everything.
Director & Choreographer: Luke Byrne.
Musical Director: Henry Brennan.
Lighting Designer: Matthew Swithinbank.
Assistant Director/Choreographer: Emily Stanghan.
Production Photographs:Jamie Scott-Smith.