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In Pieces – stream.theatre

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman 

Music and Lyrics: Joey Contreras

Director: Louis Rayneau

If there’s any topic that is already well covered by musical theatre numbers, it’s romance. That hasn’t stopped US songwriter Joey Contreras from creating a full-length revue of songs based on the topic of love, which has now been filmed with a young British cast.

Director Louis Rayneau has taken advantage of lockdown to stage proceedings in KidZania, normally a play area for children where they can pretend to take on grown-ups’ jobs from banking to firefighting. The empty buildings and facades make for an unusually detailed 360° set, setting each number in and around and a generic US-style town square.

In some ways that feels appropriate, because so much of In Pieces’s running time feels like the songwriting performance is similar to a lot of modern New York-based musical theatre/cabaret writing, from Adam Gwon to Scott Alan and everything else in between. The sense of déjà vu reaches its peak with Another New York Love Song. As the title suggests (without any visible sense of irony) it’s like countless other songs of the genre.

Thankfully, elsewhere there are some flashes of charm and beauty to Contreras’s writing. Kyle Birch gets much the best end of the deal, each of his solo numbers impressing in both writing and performance, while Ross Harmon excels in bringing a strong sense of a through line in his numbers. All lead performers in theory are portraying the same character throughout – named in the programme notes and the film’s end credits – but for many of the performers there’s not much clarity in character progression.

If one forgets such things and just takes each song on its own merits, some of the group numbers make the greatest impression. Ensemble number Singin’ The Same Line, ostensibly set in an addicts’ support group, combines something to say about the addictive nature of love with some beautifully complementary harmonies and a chorus hook that in a different collection of songs might make for a great finale. And as the action moves from the town square to a generic karaoke bar, Amy Di Bartolomeo, Hiba Elchikhe and Danielle Steers’ three-piece Like You Don’t Miss Me has a poppy, R-and-B-infused vibe that one could imagine as a chart hit.

Musical Director Edward Court has created a faultless rendition of each number, even those who twinkly piano and cello accompaniment reinforces the feeling that one has heard this style of musical theatre so many times before. If anything, the sound is too perfect: the slickness of the studio recordings doesn’t always make for a good match with the lip-syncing of the performers miming to their own track.

Unfortunately the most egregious mismatch comes right at the start of the film, Luke Street going full belt on audio yet seemingly barely breathing in vision. That discrepancy makes even minor differences in future songs all the more noticeable. Most of the time, Rachel Sargent’s choreography helps to compensate – and in cases, takes full advantage of a song’s performer not needing to worry about breath control when dancing to their own solo.

But strip that away, as with Danielle Steers’s blisteringly emotional With Him (performed without frills or gimmicks, just Steers on a blackened stage) and the lip syncing works against the power of both the lyric and the singer. One hopes we can get to see Steers perform this number live sometime soon, as it is a great match for her voice.

The film comes to a conclusion with Fork in the Road, another ensemble piece. This time, the focus is on accepting that love and life change all the time, and that worrying less about which road to take makes one enjoy the journey even more. It’s a sentiment that leaves one feeling rather more optimistic about this song cycle than perhaps it deserves.

Available here until 26 April 2021  

The Reviews Hub Score

Lip-synced song cycle that falls flat

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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