I COULD USE A DRINK – ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – no alcohol necessary actually

I COULD USE A DRINK – The Music of Drew Gasparini

Garrick Theatre

one night only – Monday 2 August 2021

Originally released as an album in 2013, Drew Gasparini’s collection of songs charting aspects of youth and young adulthood from crushing hard to unwanted pregnancy with lots in between, has acquired cult status, exacerbated further during the last year by a much loved online presentation. On the basis of last night’s raucously well received concert version, it’s not hard to understand all the love.

Gasparini’s house style is like the love child of Jonathan Larson and Jason Robert Brown, with invigorating slugs of funk and soul thrown in for good measure. It’s rocky, mostly upbeat and pleasingly melodic. It’s also unmistakably American. There’s even an attractive, if slightly ponderous, meander into Country & Western with a lugubrious all male trio examining the motivations behind mass high school killings, not something one would necessarily expect to hear on a musical stage outside of the next Carrie revival.

For this one-off concert, producers Liam Gartland and Alex Conder (who, due to a last minute indisposition, actually performed, and did so rather superbly) assembled a formidable, diverse team of young singer-actors, representing the cream of young performing talent, some fresh out of college and a couple of rising stars who are already developing fan bases on a par with Gasparini’s. Flynn Sturgeon’s versatile, instrument-hopping six piece band are also hugely impressive.

All of the voices here are good, but a couple of them are astonishing. Billy Nevers sounds like a bona fide soul star and brings real warmth and vulnerability alongside the fiery vocals. Luke Bayer’s gorgeous ringing tenor and charm to spare continue to cement his reputation as one of UK musical theatre’s most likeable young leading men, and Maiya Quansah-Breed’s sass and charisma light up the stage. Olivia Lallo and Ahmed Hamad bring real depth of feeling as well as terrific voices to one of the only sections of the show to have a through-narrative: an engaging young couple falling in love before an unwanted pregnancy brings on the angst and doubt.

Roxanne Couch and Caroline Kay display vocal power and versatility, and both sound like potential future Elphabas, for when Wicked is next recasting, and Callum Henderson brings some much needed comedy to the proceedings, again fielding a fine singing voice.

Richly enjoyable though most of the ICUAD songs are, the concert format does unfortunately render them a bit relentlessly samey by the end of almost two hours, as each one heads towards the same ear-splitting, full-throated conclusion, however magnificently managed by cast and band. This is a real belters paradise, but the overall effect becomes a little numbing, like watching endless rounds of very good audition pieces for a particularly overwrought new musical. The muddy sound design didn’t help, with well over half the lyrics rendered unintelligible when more than one person sang. The lyrics that I could make out though seemed heartfelt and incisive, if not particularly original.

There is so much talent here though, and it would be fascinating to see what a strong director, say a Luke Sheppard or a Jonathan O’Boyle or a Paul Foster, could do to hammer the material into a coherent theatrical shape. As it is, I went straight home and sought out Drew Gasparini on Spotify.

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