Music: Burt Bacharach
Lyrics: Hal David and Others
Musical Arrangement: Kyle Riabko
Reviewer: Niall Harman
Burt Bacharach is one of the most successful and acclaimed composers of his or indeed any era. Among his stack of Grammys, Oscars and gold discs is the startling fact that over 70of his songs have charted in the US Top 40, with 52of them achieving the same feat in Britain. With such an astonishing back catalogue, it seems perhaps inevitable that his music would one day form the backdrop of a jukebox musical.
Yet What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined, the brilliant Menier Chocolate Factory’s latest musical venture, does not follow quite follow in the footsteps ofMamma Mia, Jersey Boys and the like. Indeed, it is hard to define the piece, recently seen Off-Broadway, as a musical per se, as the show lacks a book. This is not to the show’s detriment, as the songs are not forced around a thin plot and there are no awkward transitions into and between numbers. Here, it is the music and the talented young cast, lead by the show’s co-conceiver and musical arranger Kyle Riabko, that truly shine.
As enjoyable and warm-hearted as the show is, it is certainly not one for the Bacharach purists, thanks to Riabko’s innovative musical arrangements. To name only three of the thirty or so songs that appear; Sandie Shaw’s There’s Always Something There to Remind Me and B. J. Thomas’ Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, once preppy and upbeat numbers, become an anthem and a poetic ballad respectively, while Dionne Warwick’s genteel Do You Know the Way to San Jose? is given an almost hard rock twist. Such changes mean the description of Bacharach Reimagined is more than justified.
But it is these interesting arrangements that make the show. Some songs, such as Alfie, which provides the show with its title, are conventionally performed. Yet the most memorable moments come from these reinvented pieces that sound startlingly contemporary, and were lapped up by an audience of all ages.
Riabko and his six fellow performers help to lift the show above the ordinary. They all sound fantastic and play a huge raft of instruments between them. Despite the lack plot or characters, their performances draw both laughter and tears. Notable standouts are Anastacia McCleskey, delivering an epic and passionate performance of Don’t Make Me Over, immediately followed by Stephanie McKeon’s soulful and tearful Walk On By. The seven of them look to be having a fantastic time, enabling them to put on a fantastic show.
Direction from Steven Hoggett ensures the 90minutes without an interval never drags or outstays its welcome. Walking into the theatre feels like walking into a friend’s home, with some seats being torn up and replaced by sofas and armchairs, and rugs and cushions scattered throughout the auditorium. The set by Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis adds to the relaxed and friendly feel of the whole evening.
With the strains of a barn-storming version of What the World Needs Now is Love ending the show, it is nigh on impossible to leave the small auditorium without a smile on your face. Yet it is not quite a perfect evening. At times the show strays into corny territory, but it quickly saved due to the rapid turnover of songs and performers.
For a show with practically no dialogue, it is surprising how much of an emotional journey the audience are taken on thanks to the combined forces of magnificent music and a crack cast. It makes for a great evening, and the Chocolate Factory is now home to the ideal summer show.
Runs until 5th September