Musical Director: Andrew Hopkins
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
In less than three weeks’ time, Jeremiah James’ new musical It Happened in Key West premieres in London, celebrating the strength and joy of true love. As a warm-up, James presents his own romantic ‘retrospective’ Choose LoveLive at Zedel, showcasing his vocal talents by uniting some of his favourite love songs as well as previewing two new tunes taken from the forthcoming musical. Unashamedly romantic, Brits are advised to leave their cynical shell at the door.
After nearly a decade away from the London stage, James’ last performance in the West End was in Carousel and has since embarked on a series of albums and concerts, culminating in this almost one-man show that uses well-known songs to chart different experiences of love and its consequences. It opens with Nat King Cole’s L.O.V.Ewhich James performs with charm before neatly segueing into an anecdote about his first love aged 14 and an embarrassing start to their date.
This combination of personal revelation and related music structures the 75-minute show, grouping songs together while James engages with the audience, revealing a little about himself and proving a warmly engaging host. Whether he’s comparing the agony of heartbreak to the first time you got drunk, promising yourself never to do it again while eating the obligatory takeaway on the way home, or telling a wry story about his sister eventually falling for the man who wouldn’t stop calling her, James doesn’t take himself too seriously, looking for the humour in any situation to share with the audience.
What he does take seriously are his views on love as a “choice that should be made” so we can “leave the world better than we found it”. It can be a little too shmaltzy for the sceptical Londoner, but you’ll admire James’ emotional honesty even as he stifles a few tears while discussing the longevity of his parent’s marriage, before cutting to I Want to Grow Old with You.
The structure becomes a little confused later as James moves from the experience of relationships and their problems to his favourite love songs, but there is plenty to enjoy in the choice of music. Particular highlights include (appropriately) If I Loved You from Carousel which showcases the dramatic qualities of James’ voice, while taking on Joni Mitchell and Elvis in the same evening is ambitious, but James’ versions of Both Sides Now and Always on My Mind are delightful.
Choose Loveworks best with softer numbers allowing James to use his musical theatre range on some classic crooner numbers such as Out of My Mind, Baby O and a surprisingly sensitive take on the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles. Less successful are the two 1960s tunes which lack bounce, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again is a touch underpowered, while the band seems to be playing a completely different rhythm to James in a messy Always Something There to Remind Me which loses its pop flavour.
An exclusive preview of two songs from It Happened in Key West is an interesting addition, and while they are entirely out of context, Undying Love is easily the better of the two, sung with passion and force by Broadway star Wade McCollum, promising to be a potentially moving ballad in a very strange romantic comedy plot.
Perhaps a tad too sentimental at times, Choose Love is unabashed in its celebration of romance, but the comic charm of the star just about prevents the show from becoming too saccharine. Ending Choose Love with The Curtain Falls written by Sol Weinstein for Bobby Darin is a nice touch, leading nearly from James’ warm-up concert into what the writers hope will be a successful new musical.
Reviewed on 11 June | Image: Contributed