Composer and Lyricist: Stephen Schwartz
Director: Fabian Aloise
You can’t fault the Theatre Channel’s ambition; with every new episode the creators look to improve and expand on everything that has come before. Episode 8 marks their first collaboration with a living composer in an edition entirely dedicated to the work of musical theatre creator Stephen Schwartz. Enhanced by interviews with the man himself offering contextual stories and insights into works including Wicked, Pippin, Godspell and The Prince of Egypt, all the pieces included here have been written and composed by Schwartz.
Originally established in response to theatre closure to give audiences access to a broad range of music and performers, with the return of live performance, the Theatre Channel now has a different role to play, supporting and enhancing in-person shows while continuing to introduce viewers to less well-known and rarely staged pieces. The big coup for Episode 8 is to stage the song Dream Big from Schwartz’s new musical Making Magic performed by Stewart Clarke and Christine Allado in a theatre dressing room. Drawing on narrative and compositional styles from Mozart’s The Magic Flute the operatic tone of this enjoyable number offers a tantalising preview.
The high points of this Schwartz special reimagine individual songs by taking them out of their show’s original context and offering them a discrete existence in a specially designed story created by debut Director Fabian Aloise whose outstanding work as a choreographer has included Jamie Lloyd’s Evita for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. I’m Not That Girl from Wicked is transported to the bar of the Park Theatre and a hopeless love triangle performed with sensitivity by Jo Eaton-Kent whose vocal quality has a melancholy acceptance that suits this most famous of songs.
Louise Dearman is superb in a Jackanory setting for Meadowlark, a song which Schwartz considers a signature piece, from The Baker’s Wife. Advancing the music video approach, Aloise incorporates illustrations that accompany the story Dearman is telling to create a meaningful and affecting combination of performance and visual design that brings an added emotional resonance to this memory song.
The Park Theatre partners with the Theatre Channel for this edition with several numbers staged in its foyers and stairwells including an excellent version of It’s An Art from Working, Schwartz’s verbatim musical, performed by Alice Fearn as a firm and insistent waitress thrilled by her own skills. The venue also features in Prepare Ye / Beautiful City from Godspell in which Melanie la Barrie spills out of the multi-tier bar area and into the park with series regulars the Café Five.
Described by Schwartz as “MTV for musical theatre”, the finale opens the floor to the composer who performs a simple version of the uplifting Believe from The Prince of Egypt, a musical that failed to impress when it opened in London in early 2020. But around the piano with the Café Five, Aloise lets the music do the work in a stripped back version..
Launched at the Theatre Café with Schwartz in attendance along with Dearman and Eaton-Kent, the Theatre Channel is never complacent about its success. Across the 60 songs and eight episodes it keeps looking for ways to innovate, to give audiences something a little different each time. With two more episodes in the pipeline there will be plenty more surprises in store.
Runs here until 3 October 2021