Musical Director: Nick Chave
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Back to the Musicals is a concept where a series of cabaret-style concerts will look back at the history of musical theatre (starting from 1940) in five-year chunks, and allow up-and-coming performers to showcase some forgotten treasures of the art form in the process. The line-up had slightly changed from previous shows, the two female performers Jennifer Coyle and Emma-Jane Morton remaining and two new faces, Paul Edward-Wilkinson and Benjamin Mahns-Mardy, joining to take us through the first half of the Fifties. The venue, Pizza Express Live’s The Pheasantry, is a colourful basement room nicely structured to appreciate live music on its raised island of a stage. We had prime seats right below the mics, and were ready for some nostalgia.
This era notably included Calamity Jane, The King &I and Singin’ In the Rain, but true to form the gang also reminded us of shows like Call Me Madam, Can-Can and A Star is Born as well. Opening with a punchy quartet written especially for the series, the cast’s voices blended well together and each added their own personality to the mix. Emma-Jane Morton could come out of her shell a little in the interpretation, but her pretty soprano voice makes up for her composure. Her delivery of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s As-Long-As-He-Needs-Me-predecessor Something Wonderful brought a tear to my eye (alas, there was no chilli oil on my pizza for me to blame it on) and Jennifer Coyle’s Windy City packed plenty of character punch.
The boys were similarly slick, withEdward-Wilkinson’s fresh face and open sound a lovely match for Higher Than A Hawk and Mahns-Mardy’s comic touch and rich baritone bringing charm to Bless Your Beautiful Hide from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The Singin’ In the Rain medley which closed Act 1 (put together by fantastic MD Nick Chave and Jennifer Coyle) was fun and familiar, though modern renditions of this kind sometimes serve to remind just how fluffy a show it is.
Seeing A Star is Born on the list, I longed for a bit of The Man That Got Away rather than Swanee, and was similarly baffled by the closing two numbers (and encore) being from Sondheim’s Saturday Night – a piece which has a clear reasons for not being widely known. But having researched around this half-decade, it seems 1950-55 wasn’t as packed with classics as the years around it – just missing Guys &Dolls in the last cabaret and leaving West Side Story, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady until the next. However, the amount of preparation, style and professionalism that went into this show was noted and appreciated; keeping as much continuity as possible with the cast would be preferable, but the BTTM team are good at finding young people with attractive, period-appropriate voices. Here’s to the next five years.