STARTING HERE STARTING NOW
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr
Music by David Shire
Directed by Gerald Armin
Waterloo East Theatre – until 18 July
Although this show and it’s sister revue Closer Than Ever are beloved of musical theatre aficionados, the classy song-writing team of Maltby & Shire has never created a true blockbuster. True, Richard Maltby Jr co-wrote the lyrics to Miss Saigon, but the duo’s joint forays into Broadway musicals have been modestly successful at best (Baby, Big The Musical). Watching this engaging song cycle in the intimate confines of Waterloo East makes one wonder if the reason massive main stream success has eluded them is that their work is too delicate and conversational for such a bombastic art form as the big Broadway musical.
There are moments of razzmatazz and exuberance for sure, but the main impression left by these often enchanting, attractively melodic numbers is of snapshots – some humorous, some heartfelt, mostly romantic – of urban lives in varying states of regretful flux or joy; even at it’s darkest the tone is more of gentle melancholy than heart-on-the-sleeve despair. There’s a wonderful number about a literary know-it-all coming to terms with the fact that her competitiveness while doing, of all things, the New York Times crossword is the root of her perennial loneliness. Or another, the rollicking samba-esque ‘I Don’t Remember Christmas’ where a litany of memory-evoking objects signals that a cast-off lover is some way from being over his ex, despite all his protests to the contrary. There’s a wit and a lightness of touch about the work that makes it perfect for the often underrated art form of revue, especially when performed as it is here by a likeable, golden voiced trio, accompanied by a superb musical director (Inga Davis-Rutter).
The neurotic fizz of the material is pure New York and it’s slightly diluted by the decision to have the cast perform some of the show in their native accents but other bits of it in the American accents that feel more suitable. The musical staging and ‘bits of business’ could be sharper and more focussed, Gerald Armin’s production really coming into it’s own when the cast are front and centre, finding the quiet intensity or rueful comedy in the songs.
Gina Murray is glorious: a magnetic comedienne with a lot of heart, and a silky, gorgeous voice that occasionally opens out into a thrilling belt. Nikki Bentley finds an effervescent joy in her lighter moments but also an affecting depth in a couple of the ballads, delivered in a supple, versatile vocal that combines sweetness and power. Noel Sullivan is a lot of fun, and also in possession of a fine voice, although he wasn’t fully on top of his lyrics the night I saw it, resulting in some unfortunate corpsing.
First seen in 1977, the peppy, fundamentally optimistic ‘Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life’ (yes that’s an actual lyric) outlook of the show feels very much like something from a bygone, less cynical era. Other aspects however, such as an intelligent attitude to bruised human feelings or some moments of authentic joyfulness, are timeless.
These are immaculately crafted theatre songs, each one almost a mini-play all by itself, and this is a welcome opportunity to experience them while basking up close (with full Covid safety measures in place, of course) in some terrific world-class talent. The show won’t rock anybody’s world but it’s a very nice time.