Only An Octave Apart – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Creators: Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo

Director: Zack Winokur

An opera singer and a cabaret legend walk onto a stage.

They’re wearing a pair of very sexy dresses, one shimmery silver and one sleek black, which look like small cars. Then they sit on some traffic cones.

Whatever you were expecting from this show, it likely is pretty removed from what you’ll get.

Cabaret performer Justin Vivian Bond and classically trained countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo have created a show celebrating the life and verve that come from difference and juxtaposition. The title marks out a theme of deceptive closeness masquerading as separation that runs strongly throughout – where opposing vocal styles and musical themes blend seamlessly and the protagonists swap roles and jokes fluidly.

Their stage presence is full of charm. They laugh a lot together, and bring us into their fun. Stringing together classical arias, country songs, pop, folk and more becomes almost straightforward in their hands. The music stems naturally from their on-stage conversations about identity and life. We’re treated to blends of Liam Sternberg’s pop classic Walk Like An Egyptian and a section from Costanzo’s speciality, Akhnathen by Phillip Glass. We get a version of Deh placatevi con me from Orfeo ed Eurydice beautifully sung by Costanzo with comedic “No” interruptions from Bond which melts into a strident, campaigning duet version of Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up.

With strong themes of inclusivity throughout, of course, there’s an emotional heft to this ostensibly light-hearted show. Both get fair share at delivering the emotional punches. Costanzo’s performance in French, after Edith Piaf, of Jacques Prévert and Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles Mortes) is genuinely sublime – his voice never better in the rest of the 90 minutes, potentially apart from his next song Über Allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (an aria from Franz Liszt based on a Goethe poem). Bond delivers a mash up of I’m Always Chasing Rainbows (remember that great Judy Garland version?) and the Tom Waits song Rainbows. It’s gritty, sad but hopeful. It finishes with a striking, short duet of Vesti la Giubba from the opera Pagliacci – a reminder to us that there’s always more happening than will meet the eye.

There’s some less accomplished numbers too. The disco hit Stars doesn’t really land, despite a lot of effort. Costanzo’s vocals also feel far more at home in his higher registers or with styles other than opera, with a strain or slightly metallic quality creeping into the poppy numbers.

They’re backed up by gorgeous costume design (those cars are only the start of a fantastic visual array) from Jonathan Anderson and energising lighting from John Torres. A full and talented band accompanies them, flipping between electronic harpsichord to accompany One Charming Night from Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, and authentic sounds to back country songs like Neil Diamond’s gruff I Am I Said.

It’s heady stuff, vulnerable, exciting, well conceived and executed. At one point, Bond notes that Costanzo’s not there to give the people what they want, but what they don’t want. Really, it’s the show we perhaps didn’t know we wanted but these two knew better. Thankfully for us.

Runs until 22 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Vulnerable and exciting

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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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