Director: Nick Barstow
In theatre’s most challenging year, the showcase has emerged as a means of delivering musical theatre to an audience unable to access the live experience.
With Unlimited, we have a variety of songs from the career of composer Stephen Schwartz. Assembling talent, past and present, from The Prince of Egypt and Wicked, this showcase is perfectly placed to examine Schwartz’s legacy. Unlimited not only looks at the standards: we open with Magic to Do from Pippin; but also his achievements as a lyricist (Disney’s Pocahontas is featured too).
Schwartz introduces the show; warm, engaged and unfailingly enthusiastic. There’s new work – The Prince of Egypt has been on hold since March – and surprises as the cast make their own selections. Watching hot-ticket Oliver Tompsett perform World Without You from Children of Eden will please the most ardent theatre nerd.
The evening starts with the cast sat together, with piano accompaniment. The staging is intimate: it feels like we’ve got the best seat in the house. We are spoilt with the voices too: the talent includes Alexia Khadime, Dianne Pilkington, Sophie Evans, Carl Man and Alice Fearn (all Wicked alumni). Man explores Beautiful City (Godspell) and it’s a stunning choice. Schwartz’s lyrics – full of dreamy, wide-eyed optimism and performed as such – feel like an act of bravery. Schwartz dares us to imagine somewhere better.
Unlimited does a great job of highlighting the complexity of Schwartz’s music. In Meadowlark (The Baker’s Wife) Pilkington explores not first love, but a connection far more complicated. It is a common thread that runs through many of Schwartz’s songs. As Liam Tamne sings Footprints in the Sand from The Prince of Egypt, he voices the frustration and contradiction of being born Royal – but second in line to the throne, and he fears he will vanish without “leaving a mark”. He yearns to contribute, to be visible. Schwartz writes about love, but these are declarations of love that are not just romantic, but filial, platonic. Love in its most wide-reaching form. In short, a loyalty to something bigger than ourselves.
The showcase ends with a crowd-pleaser. When You Believe – lifted from the film and at the heart of The Prince of Egypt – is performed by Alice Fearn and Nikki Bentley. A beautifully judged duet, Fearn and Bentley rest in a sweet spot between the technique of musical theatre and the full-throttle of a power ballad.
By being presented so simply, Unlimited lets the work shine. Great songs, interpreted by some of the best voices working in musical theatre. Unlimited, with a killer songlist and elegant staging, satisfies like a ‘real’ show, because it pushes the music front and centre.
While some theatres have re-opened, and others remain closed, Unlimited reminds us of what musical theatre – articulate, cerebral, at the top of its game – can offer an audience. Schwartz’s ability to not only dig deeper into those classic musical theatre motifs, but approach them from a different angle altogether, gives this show its point of difference. With a running time of 50 minutes, you could definitely make a case for additional content – there’s plenty of it. But, perhaps in adhering to that oldest of theatre traditions, Unlimited leaves us wanting more.