Musical Direction: Nick Chave
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
A night at the Pheasantry venue on the King’s Road is always a pleasure – live music, intimate quarters and the option of a delicious pizza while you listen. Often a platform for solo shows, on Sunday it played host to Back to the Musicals, a showcase of some of the finest British and American musical theatre written between 1940 and 1945, performed by up-and-coming actors. This was the first in a series that will see 5-year chunks of musical theatre history performed at the venue in the coming months.
The cast of four – Jennifer Coyle, Emma Jane Norton, Jonny Muir and Howard Jenkins – were note and word-perfect, delivering a variety of brilliant vintage songs, such as We’ll Gather Lilacs, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and selections from Oklahoma! and Carousel. What struck me was how perfectly the set list was shared out – four very different voices brought out the absolute best in each number, from excellent character acting (particularly Jennifer Coyle and Howard Jenkins’ Oklahoma! songs) to a sublime soprano sound from Emma Jane Norton and incredible light and shade from Jonny Muir. It was particularly nice to hear two songs from Meet Me in St Louis without any pretence of a Judy Garland impression.
The quartet (sounding most fabulous when singing together) opened with an upbeat and clever original song written especially for this series by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, which was a real highlight, along with the beautiful Carousel medley that closed the show. Huge credit must go to the accompanist (and, I believe, arranger of this medley) Nick Chave – a student at Trinity who is certainly one to keep an eye on. Not only the youngest, but the most sensitive and skilled accompanist I’ve seen at the Pheasantry so far. Alice Chappell also added her perky soprano to the trios and sang the lovely Out of My Dreams from Oklahoma!
This series is a great idea for slightly nostalgic musical theatre lovers; you get to hear the classics, remember why they have endured, and all performed with a fresh voice and youthful energy. There was just enough coordinated movement/choreography for it to seem spontaneous, while obviously being properly rehearsed and confidently delivered. If I had one criticism it would be that the chunks of musical theatre history delivered between numbers were narrated in a slightly awkward American accent from backstage – the cast simply chatting to the audience as themselves about the material might have felt more natural. However, the cast of Back to the Musicals was more professional, slick and energetic than many better-known faces I’ve seen perform at this kind of venue, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the next few instalments of the series.