Kerrigan-Lowdermilk: One (More) Night in London at the St James Studio Theatre, London.
Writing duo Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk have crafted a number of musicals in their native America, none of which have yet found a secure foothold on this side of the Atlantic. That has not stopped appreciation of their songwriting talents, however, with several of their compositions becoming firm favourites in many a singer’s audition and/or cabaret repertoire.
After a successful weekend of shows in February, the duo returned to the St James Studio for another evening showcasing their work. It’s testament to the esteem in which this pair’s writing is held that their songs brought out some of London’s best known young voices to show them off to the best effect.
Starting with Chloe Hart’s lively rendition of the effervescent ‘Hand in Hand’, there is an immediate rapport between composers, guest performers and audience that remains throughout. And the bar is set high in short order, as Stuart Matthew Price – whose voice seems tailor-made for Kerrigan-Lowdermilk’s works – soars through ‘Five and a Half Minutes’, followed swiftly by Julie Atherton at her comedic best as a precocious six-year-old in ‘My Party Dress’. It’s a performance that threatens to steal the whole show, but following it up with ‘Run Away With Me’, perhaps the duo’s best known number, is a canny move.
For much of the first half of the show, Kait Kerrigan remains seated on stage while her writing partner is accompanying the guest artists – or acting as a page turner for guest pianist George Dyer, whose manic enthusiasm for his craft enlivens any performance. It’s initially a distracting arrangement, having someone sit on stage under a spotlight while others perform – but Kerrigan’s smiles that break out as a performer delivers a song’s key points are worth capturing. And when she finally stands, some 40 minutes in, to deliver her own rendition of ‘Anyway’ – a song that deceptively starts as a typically wry take on New York life, before exposing the tragedy at its heart – it is worth the wait.
As the headline soloist of the concert, Michael Arden’s relaxed, informal style typifies the whole evening. A block of numbers in Act II includes both the comedic ‘Vegas’, a duet with Lowdermilk in which the pair recount possibly the worst boys’ holiday to Nevada ever, and the sublime ‘Rise’, taken from their musical Republic. It’s that dichotomy of mirth and melodrama which seems to encapsulate the general appeal of Kerrigan-Lowdermilk’s work.
An attempt to bring in some electronica, with Lowdermilk cueing in drum loops to accompany Dyer’s piano and Jodie Jacobs’ rendition of ‘Last Week’s Alcohol’, hints at how some of the songs featured would benefit from larger arrangements than just the piano accompaniment offered here. But that’s no complaint, when the singing and the piano playing are this accomplished, and the material of such a consistently high standard. By the time Price returns for ‘One Last Prayer’ – another anthemic rendition which must surely improve the chances of its source musical, Republic, being staged here soon – we are at the end of an evening which, once the encore ensemble number of ‘Holding On’ has completed, is over too soon.