Wednesday, July 6

Starting Here, Starting Now – Waterloo East

Maltby and Shire’s revue, Starting Here, Starting Now, was first produced at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1976, with songs accumulated from the many shows they had written, some of which were never produced. As a revue, their songs have seen much more success. There have been frequent revivals and even a Grammy nomination for the original cast recording.  Each song is a cleverly crafted mini-drama on the timeless themes of love and relationships, good, bad, broken, angry, joyful, new, old, hopeful and hopeless.  It’s an eclectic mix of songs and styles – sometimes thrilling, sometimes funny, and occasionally baffling.  “Thrilling” are the performers, Nikki Bentley, Gina Murray and Noel Sullivan, all seasoned West End stars, whose voices individually and together are the energetic engine for the revue. They bring out every ounce of character in the songs through frequently tongue-twisting lyrics.  The “funny” comes in the form of songs such as Crossword Puzzle. This song, whose smart lyric relates a couple’s sharing of the Sunday Times crossword to the progress of their relationship, holds a touching denouement full of pathos.

The songs flit regularly across the Atlantic with sudden changes of accent from British to American and back again, which is the baffling part.  It reminds the audience that this is actually a collection of songs on a theme, rather than an overarching narrative with a through-line and means that the show overall lacks coherence in its storytelling. And not all the songs land. There’s a strange and brief music-hall number performed by Noel Sullivan that feels disjointed and misplaced. I’m Going To Make You Beautiful is another jarring moment. Both songs come over as randomly shoe-horned in purely for comic effect with little connection to the rest of the show.

Nikki Bentley, Gina Murray and Noel Sullivan

The performers, directed by Gerald Armin, make the best use of the small stage, and the set is suitably minimalist with atmospheric lighting.  Getting the sound balance right in a small space is always an issue, especially with the added intrusion of trains rumbling overhead, and at times the female voices sound slightly shrill in tone at the top of their registers. As far as the music is concerned though, Inga Davis-Rutter’s keyboard accompaniment is perfect throughout and, while previous productions have usually been backed by a three-piece band, this solo backing really hits the mark. 

Starting Here, Starting Now may have been around for 45 years, but its themes are just as relevant and fresh today as they were in 1976 and, while none of the songs is likely to leave the audience with a hummable earworm for their journey home, this production is still a great “welcome back” to theatre.

Starting Here, Starting Now plays at Waterloo East until the 18th July. Further information and tickets can be found at https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/starting-here-starting-now

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 30th June 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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