Music and Lyrics: John Bucchino
Director: Tania Azevedo
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Based on the songs of John Bucchino, It’s Only Life is currently playing at the Union Theatre. Not a musical, but a revue where the songs are performed without a narrative arc linking them together, It’s Only Life is a pleasant introduction to the work of Bucchino, albeit a very one-note introduction.
Although well-performed by the young cast of five, a good deal of the songs sound too alike, not helped by the fact that the only musical accompaniment to the voices is Nick Barstow’s jingly, jazzy piano. Too many of numbers are sub-Sondheimian internal – and often, seemingly eternal – monologues, in which lyrics rather than sung are instead almost spoken, hurriedly in a rush to get to the end of the line. Only a few songs really stand out, but fortunately they make up for the rest.
Despite Bucchino being American, most of the cast choose to sing in their British accents. Only Jennifer Harding, looking like a young Denise van Outen, sings in that peculiar American twang reserved for musical theatre, but the songs sound better for it. Harding seems to know her way through these songs, and her highlight tune is Sweet Dreams, a ballad about two lovers and a respite from the vocal journaling of the other numbers.
Jordan Shaw brings some R&B to What You Need, though why he clutches a pink towel throughout is unclear. The other singers’ highpoints come in the second half. In her first professional production Sammy Graham shines in This Moment, but the awkward choreography rather distracts from her performance. William Whelton’s choreography is more successful when it steers away from a contemporary dance style and works well in Taking the Wheel, sang enthusiastically by Will Carey. If this revue has a showstopper then it has to be Grateful, performed with heart and gusto by a very impressive Noel Sullivan. It’s just a shame that the cast acting out what they are grateful for in the background take way rather than add anything to this song. Tania Azevedo should trust her singers more and give them less fussy directions.
Perhaps Azevedo, and, indeed, the pastel-coloured set by Union stalwarts Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, are trying to bring some light-heartedness to the evening that would otherwise be quite melancholic. We seem to have only two kinds of songs here, ones about breaking up, and ones about living life alone. The more up-tempo songs, such as On My Bedside Table, still have heartbreak at their centres. Even the oddly titled final number Glimpse of the Weaveasks us to contemplate on the deaths of our friends.
Rather than leaving the theatre with a Bucchino tune in your head, it’s more probable that you’ll come out humming the songs by The Spice Girls or Bon Jovi that were played in the interval. It’s Only Lifeis pleasant enough, but they should cut a few numbers, ditch the interval and have it all done and dusted in 90 minutes. All in all, an undemanding, if strangely doleful, evening, despite some fine performances from the talented cast.
Runs until 7 July 2018 | Image: Contributed