Andrew Lippa in Concert at the St James Theatre, London.
The name Andrew Lippa is not one that a large percentage of UK theatregoers in the UK will have heard of, although some may have seen his most famous show – the lavish The Addams Family – on Broadway back in 2010. More recently, in September this year, his musical adaptation of the Daniel Wallace novel (and better-known Tim Burton movie) Big Fish opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway, and now, in November, he has made his UK debut at the St James Theatre, courtesy of producers Stuart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn for United Theatrical Productions.
Lippa – born in Leeds in 1964 but raised in Detroit after his family emigrated to the US in 1967 – is a composer-lyricist from the Sondheim school of musical theatre, slotting in somewhere between Sondheim, Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown. For his first UK outing, he curates a selection of songs from his catalogue: some from his established shows, and others from his less successful or even unproduced musicals. The result is a delightful evening of comedic, sentimental and heart-warming numbers.
Having taken on several roles during his career – music teacher, dance coach, pianist, singer, songwriter – perhaps it should come as no surprise that Lippa has a cracking voice. He does his smart, sassy words great justice by performing the lyrics as he clearly envisions them, and the emotion is particularly heartfelt in the more biographical songs. His encore, ‘Happy/Sad’ from The Addams Family, is particularly touching. He’s at his best, however, with comedy, and ‘Marshall Levin’ (a song about his first Sondheim experience, written for the composer’s 80th birthday) and ‘Raise the Roof’ from his award-winning Off-Broadway musical The Wild Party are stand-out numbers.
Helping him out on stage are pianist Simon Beck, who takes over when Lippa chooses not to accompany himself, and cellist Hannah Ashenden. Both do a faultless job with the musical support. Lippa also wisely brings in guests in the shape of the wonderful Jenna Russell, Tam Mutu, Willemijn Verkaik, Ashleigh Grey and, best of all, the revelation that is Carrie Hope Fletcher, all of whom give winning performances.
Lippa is an engaging, funny, self-deprecating performer, and I left his show itching to hear more. As with the work of Sondheim, JRB and their contemporary composer-lyricists, Lippa’s songs demand a further listen… a deeper, more careful listen. It’ll be worth the effort, I’m sure. His name deserves to be better known here in the UK, and, as he himself suggests, we could do with The Addams Family over here (with Michael Ball as his Gomez, apparently!). I, for one, look forward to his return.
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