Recorded remotely in June 2020, this abstract musical is a breath of fresh air in this confined lockdown. Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle captures the feeling of transitioning as we explore the effects of “one moment” of change.
The piece opens with footage of closed theatres and soundbites of the news. The uncharacteristically empty theatre districts are accompanied by the words of hope in “A New World”. The show premiered in 1995 but, as with this song, the whole show’s premise feels especially poignant in this time. Almost instantly I had goosebumps and there was many more of that to come.
The idea of a moment igniting change couldn’t be more significant when thinking of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. The footage of Windrush and street art of George Floyd gave even more impact to the second song. In contrast to the optimism of the opening, Cedric Neal (Back to the Future the Musical) takes on this plea for strength with an earnest performance. Neal’s voice throughout the musical is ridiculously impressive. His ease in the upper range and masterful vocal runs are a treat to the ear (and the tricks are tastefully done). His version of “King of the World” showcases his soaring vocals perfectly.
Ballads follow up-tempos, dramatic stories are preceded by comedic ones, and yet Brown still manages to create a memorable and signature sound. The tone of the piece is ever-changing, so the style is never the same and the excitement builds.
Arguably, the performer with the most character shifts is Rachel Tucker (Come From Away). With “Just One Step” she convincingly plays a woman “on the edge”; literally. Similarly, she embodies a lamenting Mrs Clause in the second act (a personal highlight). But Tucker doesn’t shy away from the serious ballads either, as with “Stars and the Moon” she sits back and delivers a heartfelt performance. Tucker is known for her powerful voice which, after seeing this, is undeniably on-par with her formidable acting ability.
The simple set-ups of the homes mean that the performances are predictably more laid-back than they would be onstage. One song where this worked to the advantage was “I’m Not Afraid of Anything”. Lounging on the sofa, photo album in hand, Rachel John (Hamilton), gives a naturalistic yet effective interpretation of this favourite. John’s performance style is understated, and only ever entices you more. Her vocal textures sprinkle the songs with emotion and she shines in the heart-warming “Christmas Lullaby”.
The show isn’t just solo songs. The performers appear to add delicious harmonies, as well as to sing together in rousing group numbers. There is one duet where the performers interact, (as much as we can interact at this time – via video call) in a romantic reconciliation. John is joined by Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom of the Opera) for a ballad with soothing sounds and a sweet storyline. In this whole show Karimloo is utterly captivating. Whether he is wistfully reminiscing or cynically sipping on whisky, he is mesmerising! In “She Cries”, Karimloo explores his characters’ feelings with a casual flair and a not-so-casual vocal. He is pitch perfect with real star quality.
The song cycle may not be narrative-led, but that doesn’t mean that the impact is any less than the stereotypical musical. If anything, people telling stories in their living rooms makes it all the more relatable right now. The task that the performers are given is no small feat, but the cast are spectacular. Finishing with two uplifting songs, the voices blend together and pick up the audience’s spirit. Just the tonic we’ve all been wanting.
Playing until the 28th February with a run time of 1hr 45 mins (approx.)
Ticket Price: £15.00 plus £3.00 transaction fee https://www.stream.theatre/season/46
Reviewer: Coral Mourant
Reviewed: 20th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★