REVIEW: Sunday In The Arts (Arts Theatre)
I’ve been to a lot of cabarets in my time and most follow the same formula: an artist will sing a few songs, tell us little about themselves and once in a while (hopefully) makes us laugh. Well Emma Ralston and Anthony Williamson have taken that formula, shaken it up and created what I can only describe as pure cabaret gold. The evening from start to finish was side splitingly hilarious, entertaining and down right clever. The duo entitled this, the November offering of the once monthly cabaret, ‘We are stagey like that’, (each months cabaret has a different theme).
It opened with a brilliant reworking of ‘Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats’ incorporating the title of the show and hilariously describing varying degrees of staginess. From the off, the audience knew they were in for an expertly musical evening that had its tongue placed firmly in its cheek.
The four guest singers were Kay Murphy, Matthew Croke, Sophie Linder-Lee and new graduate Robert Woodward. Each month a new graduate is chosen from a list of submissions and is then invited to sing. What a delightful touch, this is exactly the kind of supportive and generous act that makes our industry special and what a great choice Robert was, he sang ‘Boy with Dreams’ from Edges and his voice was sublime.
Kay Murphy plunged gleefully into the spirit of the evening and took part in an improvised version of act 1 of ‘Wicked’ jumping in and out of characters when prompted (her Dillamond and spontaneous choreography was a revelation!) and finished standing on a chair bedecked in a binbag and waving a small broom as she belted out the end of ‘Defying Gravity’. Her song in the second half was the perfectly timed ‘Old Fashioned Love Story’ from The Wild Party with Sophie Linda Lee and the hosts joining in to perfect comic effect when needed.
Matthew Croke was tasked with providing waiter service (!) for the hosts during the evening and he duly brought them water when required. He sang ‘This Is Not Over Yet’, From Parade and it was simply perfection.
Sophie Linder-Lee was given a stagey quiz, which I’m happy to say she passed with flying colours! She then entertained us on the ukelele a with comical version of ‘I wanna be like you’ from The Jungle Book, changing the lyrics in order to describe the types of ‘animals’ you meet on the London Underground.
Although the emphasis of the cabaret is most definitely on the music and comedy Emma and Anthony managed to interview or rather chat with each guest about past and current work without making it seem dry or formulaic. They also sang themselves throughout the evening, it is their cabaret after all! Emma sang ‘She Used To Be Mine’ from new musical Waitress (so new it won’t be on Broadway until March 2016) as well as ‘The Life of the Party’ from The Wild Party, showing of her fabulous high belt. Anthony, in a touching homage to his grandmother sang a perfectly judged rendition of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misarables.
One of the highlights was a pondering of what the West End would be like if more shows were written by Sondheim, this resulted in a Sondheim ‘mash up’ of tunes, written in collaboration with the MD for the evening, Michael Webborn. The song was not only very funny but very clever, with melodies from shows including Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and Company set with lyrics from Les Mis and Book of Mormon to name but a few. It was evident that the three had thought carefully about what lyric would be most appropriate with what melody, Mr. Sondheim would have approved.
Kudos to Michael for keeping up with the vivacity and spontaneity of the hosts thought the evening, improvising on the piano as and when it was needed as well as providing delightful a accompaniment for the artists.
The cabaret was resounding success, underlined by the audiences standing ovation at ‘the curtain’. I’m sad to say this was the last ‘Sunday In The Arts’ for this year, I can only look forward with great trepidation to what Emma and Anthony will offer us in 2016.
Reviewed by Byron Butler