The Life of the Party***** (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Theatre

Attachment-1When seeing Putting it Together, the recent revue of Sondheim songs, the problem was disassociating the songs from the shows from which they originated. With this revue of musical theatre songs by Andrew Lippa, the opposite problem arises – not being able to associate them with their source material – and the problem is an acute one because some of them are so completely brilliant that they spur a desperate need to see the shows without delay. Lippa, Leeds born and American raised, has been a victim of the difficulties that have arisen in recent years in transferring original works of American musical theatre across the Atlantic, but, hopefully, that could be about to change. The Menier’s own David Babani conceived this review jointly with Lippa and he also directs, so could that mean that he has an eye on bringing one of the shows here to this small venue which has already done so much to further the cause of musical theatre in London? Maybe, but, in the meantime, the ball is already rolling as Lippa’s The Addams Family is being staged at the Assembly Hall throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. This show is performed by three of the most accomplished stars of musicals – Damian Humbley, Caroline O’Connor and Summer Strallen – joined by Andrew Lippa himself, who anchors the show, shares piano duties and performs several of the numbers. He proves to be a ready-made cabaret act with smart anecdotes, quick wit and the gift for forming a natural repartee with the audience. He begins by telling us how, in the early 1980s, he had a date which included listening to the cast recording of Sweeney Todd and how this led to him falling in love, not with his amorous companion but with Stephen Sondheim. Clearly the love affair continues, because the prime influences in Lippa’s work both as a composer and a lyricist are Sondheim and everything that influenced Sondheim. There can hardly be a higher compliment and what a cause for celebration it is to suddenly discover that the great man has an heir who is 35 years younger and probably has his best years still to come. Delights here include, from The Addams Family, Humbley plastered in white make-up as Fester chanting The Moon and Me and the company performing the gloriously optimistic (Death is) Just Around the Corner. The song that gives this review its title is performed by Strallen as a drunk struggling to stay upright and, also from The Wild Party, the utterly hilarious lesbian lament An Old Fashioned Love Story  gives O’Connor the opportunity to stop the show for five minutes. The songs range from the outright comic to the heartbreaking and Lippa ends with extracts from his new choral work I Am Harvey Milk. This is an evening of marvellous melodies and magical rhymes that tickle the funny bone one second and pierce the heart the next and, throughout, there is a synchronicity between music and words that seems extra special because both come from the same writer. On its own, this sampler box merits a long run, but what makes it more exciting is that it could be only a foretaste of goodies to come in the shape of productions of the full shows. A terrific appetiser.

Performance date: 8 june 2014

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