Musical Director: George Dyer
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Production company Speckulation is well known for its UK tours and bringing performers over from Broadway, but they also have a nice sideline in smaller showcases to introduce up and coming performers. Tonight’s act was Tori Allen-Martin, who has gathered fans on the fringe circuit in shows such as RENT and After the Turn and worked as a backing singer for performers like Julie Atherton and Lynda Carter, but by her own admittance has struggled to break through in the industry. Her set list was very personal, charting points in her life from being born in New York – Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind (Part II) – to her current projects, a group called The Collective and recent fringe hit Streets, which is comng to Hackney Empire this week. Her sultry vocal tone and chatty links were perfectly suited to the relaxed Pheasantry venue on the Kings Road, where the audience can sip wine, eat pizza and definitely give the odd whoop.
The set list blended pop and musical theatre pretty seamlessly (sometimes mashing up the two) and showed off the many colours and textures of Allen-Martin’s voice. Musical theatre just about won out – though this reviewer may be biased – with moving choices like Loose Ends from The Witches of Eastwick and Perfect from Edges really pulling at the heartstrings. Heartbreak was a bit of a theme, though the odd number like Jessie J’s Nobody’s Perfect (performed with Wicked‘s Ashleigh Gray) and You Make Me Happy (with Andy Coxon, who has his own Acoustic Session next month) picking up the pace a bit. The first half culminated with a matter-of-fact speech about how narrow-minded the musical theatre scene can be, and how performers can try desperately to fit in or just decide to work with what they have and move up as an individual, followed by a funked-up, acoustic version of Defying Gravity. This could have come off as cheesy or contrived, but it actually felt very poignant. The set eventually came full circle as Allen-Martin performed the uplifting Home from The Wiz, her first lead rôle as a child and the beginning of her love of the limelight.
The real highlights were the subtler, mellower tracks like It’s Been a Year from recent British musical Lift, You Are My Weakness from Streets, Touch Me from Spring Awakeningand nearly all of the collaborations with Tori’s diverse guests. In particular, The Collective (Allen-Martin, Greg Oliver and singer/songwriter Benedict), who performed a spine-tingling, harmonised version of Beyoncé’s Halo, and Benedict and Allen-Martin singing an original song of his. West Ender Sabrina Aloueche and fabulous newcomer Ambra Caserotti also appeared on some great pop duets. MD George Dyer was a sensitive and slick accompanist; each number felt well-rehearsed but also with some of that much-needed freedom that a gig like this thrives on. London is increasingly coming around to these off-Broadway-style cabarets and, when they are good,the atmosphere is electric. Some performers I’ve seen at the Pheasantry haven’t quite earnt their £20 ticket price, but Allen-Martin gave every ounce of herself, from impressive riff to down-to-earth anecdote, and I’ll certainly be watching out for her future projects.
Speckulation Acoustic Sessions continue on 14 July.speckulationentertainment.com