It was all about the music.
Even if you think you know Burt, you’ll be surprised and delighted when you see this show.
In our interview actress, Anastacia McClesky [read here], described fringe show What’s It All About: Bacharach Reimagined as ‘”.. an experience… an event… a journey…”
Well, it’s all that and so much more.
The journey is that of a 20th century musical genius, a maker of melodies and arrangements so captivating that, for a while, it seemed that every major vocalist lent their voice to them. To him. He not only gave the production his blessing prior to its 2013 off-Broadway conception, but he attended London’s opening night and performed ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ on stage with the cast. You can’t dream of a better endorsement than that!
The journey is that of the audience.
For the older, here were past times revisited, reminding them that if the songs of younger days can be so celebrated in the Now, so can the life which used them as the soundtrack to all of those feelings and experiences. For the younger, here was a garage gig watching friends cut loose across multiple styles in an exchange of stories and feelings and experiences. The two had no choice but to be brought together for 90 minutes, encouraged by the cosy setting of the 180 capacity theatre draped with mis-matched sofas, old textured rugs, lamps of every description and musical instruments strewn, hung and leaning up everywhere (courtesy of set designers Christine Joes and Brett J Banakis).
It works, because co-creator and star Kyle Riabko has not simply come up with a lazy jukebox musical. Mamma mía, but he hasn’t just shoe-horned great songs into a terrible story. Instead, he has let the story in Hal David’s lyrics against the emotional underscore of Bacharach’s melodies do the fluid, eloquent talking. The incredibly talented cast fully commit on every level. From the pitch-perfect solo and harmonised vocals, through the ingenious mash-ups and precision movement around the stage, to the physical expressions of the joy and sadness of love and life, this young cast are probably the best advertisement for sending a child to a performing arts school I’ve witnessed in a long time.
McClesky herself moved the audience more than once with her tone and timbre during such painful classics as ‘Don’t Make Me Over’, sung in a paralysis-inducing, achingly expressive style reminiscent of Al-Green in his prime. Along with Riabko and drummer/multi-percussionist maestro James Williams, these three were the energy which animated the fully engaged crowd – the cheerleaders. This doesn’t take away from the rest of the cast, who moved not just in dance, but in changing instruments and managing the subtle set changes.
South London-born Anglo-Tanzanian Renato Paris demonstrated an incredible vocal range across several octaves, plus a mastery of guitar and keyboard. A Brit School graduate, he was the cheeky wink of the production, especially when leading the cast into ‘Close To You’. He is a major British talent to watch! Dublin-born Stephanie McKeon was all delicate vulnerability, expressed through her clear vocal upper range and her guitar-playing. She duets with Riabko in a gorgeous rendition of ‘I Come To You’. The ingenuity of her bearing a guitar on her back is a challenge to even the most love-scarred heart to remain unmoved by the romance of it all. With yet another impressive vocal range, Riabko himself also has mastery of several types of guitar – including acoustic, electric lead, rhythm and country blues – and keyboard; Daniel Bailen, an NYU graduate, is a slight man who produces a BIG sound, playing everything from electric bass, through viola, cello and double bass. This guy was the beating heart of the production. He did all this, sometimes whilst suspended halfway up the set, and added his own polished vocals. By no means least, Greg Coulson, whose heart lies in rhythm and blues, showed a knowledge and virtuosity with strings across several types of guitar, including the mandolin!
Together, this cast performed like a seasoned troupe, if the tautness of the arrangements and harmonies were anything to go by. Glorious! And every single audience member was completely and utterly moved.
Award-winning director and co-creator Steven Hoggett managed to bring together sure-fire Bacharach hits, mixed with the passion of creator Riabko, the addition of super-talented and committed actor-musicians, the precision ear of sound designer Richard Brooker and he has a cast a show which you should make every effort to try and catch before the September 5th closing performance.
Book tickets here