REVIEW: MS. THE SONGBOOK (Tabard Theatre)
Ms. The Songbook is an exciting new song cycle album conceived by lyricist Rory Sherman in support of The MS Society UK. Sherman has worked with an array of international musical theatre composers to create the album based on blogs, interviews and meetings with women living with multiple sclerosis. Produced and directed by Simon Greif (associate director Rocky Horror Live), Ms. The Songbook boasts new music by well-known musical composers such as George Stiles, Brian Lowdermilk, Robert J Sherman, Sarah Travis, Verity Quade, George Maguire, Amy Bowie, Tamar Broadbent, Eamonn O’Dwyer, Robbie White, Erin Murray Quinlan, Luke Di Somma, Gianni Onori and Paul Boyd. With new performances from Caroline Quentin, Janie Dee, Alexia Khadime, Caroline Sheen, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Josefina Gabrielle, Jodie Jacobs, Lillie Flynn, Julie Atherton and more the upcoming album promises to be touching, inspiring and beautiful upon it’s release online and limited physical print on May 9 2016.
To celebrate the upcoming release a three night cabaret was arranged in conjunction with the Tabard Theatre entitled: Ms: Directions. Directed by Alex Sutton, with musical direction from Ben Cox, the cabaret features the first public performances of the new music from the album partnered with songs from other musicals by guests and friends of the album. Throughout the week of shows, the Tabard Theatre is raising money for The MS Society UK and the Ms project aims to generate awareness of the work of The MS Society whilst encouraging original musical theatre from the best established and emerging artists working today.
Songs ‘Creative Skies’, ‘The Tortoise and The Hare’ and ‘Alone In The Dark’ from Ms were well presented in conjunction with songs from new musical theatre in the first act. In all three songs performed from Ms, lyricist Sherman’s storytelling shines through. In Gianni Onori (composer of West End musical ‘The 8th Fold’) and Sherman’s ‘The Tortoise and Hare’ Steve McCourt sings of his relationship, being the slow moving tortoise and his partner being the fast paced hare. He questions his decisions and life singing “we’re moving now at different speeds… we’re no longer that couple who walks side by side” in a very moving piece that had the audience in tears. Emma O’Dell sings Eamonn O’Dwyer (award winning composer of ‘The House of Mirrors & Hearts’) and Sherman’s Alone In The Dark, a song about a woman singing to her partner sitting in the dark, wishing for a smile. She sings of her promise all those years ago to “take each day one crutch at a time” and how this promise has changed over the years. Sherman has created a song ultimately about unconditional love in the face of uncertainty.
The accompanying songs in the first act, were all from upcoming musical theatre writers and performers. Highlights include Paul Rich singing Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler’s ‘Leave (the morning after)’. A song about desperately wishing that person sleeping next to you would just get up and leave and the ultimate feeling of loss when it actually occurs. Another highlight was Jody Ellen Robinson’s performance of Eammon O’Dwyer’s ‘Bathroom Lament’. A hilarious toilet-humour song with a chorus of ‘Fuck, shit, bugger, bollocks… poo!’ that had the audience in fits of laughter.
The second act saw a small cabaret-set from West End star Tiffany Graves (Kiss Me Kate, The Producers and the Witches Of Eastwick). She performed with all the grace, pizzazz and stunning vocals that we’ve all come to expect and gave us a small taste of her favourite songs, audition songs and previous stage roles. A brilliant chance to see one of the West End’s leading ladies in the prime of her career.
Overall a stunning evening of new musical theatre and a glimpse into the upcoming album Ms: The Songbook. Ms: Directions is a wonderful evening of entertainment. Laura Pitt-Pulford (Oliver, Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) joins Friday 26th’s show and Tamar Broadbent (Edinburgh Fringe, 2014 Winner of The Stiles and Drewe Best Song Award) on Saturday 27th. Sherman’s lyrics are relatable, deeply personal and very moving and I can’t wait to see the album’s release and follow the journey of Ms: The Songbook as it continues to touch audiences and raise awareness of multiple sclerosis, The MS Society UK and new musical theatre writing.
Reviewed by Stuart James