Tuesday, 1 September 2015

REVIEW: You Won't Succeed on Broadway if you don't have any Jews at the St. James Theatre

Celebrating the best of musical theatre and the ongoing Jewish contribution towards show business, this production takes audiences through a fascinating history beginning in the 1930’s all the way up to the present day.

It features a wide variety of songs from musicals about all different topics; of course this includes tributes to George and Ira Gershwin who provides the bouncy and optimistic ‘I Got Rhythm’ – performed enthusiastically by the cast and a medley of songs from Chicago by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

The show has been well put together and the songs flow well together that the audience really believes that they have been taken on a journey. It never lingers too long on one song and there is plenty of energy that adds to the audience’s excitement.

However, occasionally some of the entrances and exits between songs such as between ‘Big Spender’ and ‘A House is Not a Home’ feel a bit too abrupt and can come as a bit of a surprise. There are also moments when it feels as though the dancers (although extremely good performances) distract from some of the performances. For example, when Sophie Evans is singing a beautiful rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’, it feels as though your attention is more drawn to the dancers rather than listening to the wonderful music by Harold Arlen.

But there are certainly plenty of things to appreciate in this production as well.
John Barr’s performance of ‘Be Our Guest’ is fun and joyful to listen to and he certainly has plenty of personality to make the song a memorable version.  Another couple of performances that stand out are ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Miserables performed by Jackie Marks who originated the role of Fantine in the original West End cast – a very powerful and spine-tingling performance that holds the attention of the audience effectively from the first to the last note.  Meanwhile, Sarah Earnshaw really stands out during ‘Getting Married Today’ – singing at such a pace that really adds to the comical performance.

While the majority of the performance is about the music and paying tribute to the Jewish composers who have helped to make Broadway what it is today, it also shows how musicals developed with the changing times of society in America and changing attitudes towards show business. This is done by a series of projections and is a lovely way to set up each decade nicely and to keep the audience’s attention.

Occasionally, a few of the sections could have done with a bit more energy about it – for example the Chicago medley felt a little bit flat in terms of the singing and not quite what was expected. However, most of the time this is a very solid production and the performances from the entire cast were spot on.

There are so many other songs that could be mentioned but it is not an exaggeration to say that the production will not fail to charm audiences and will either leave you singing the songs or with at least a big smile on your face.  It is a warm and affectionate look at musical history that leaves you wondering what state Broadway would have been in if it hadn’t been for Jewish composers.

Review by Emma Claredon 


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