Nick Barstow and Friends performed at The Pheasantry, London.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
Nick Barstow is an engaging personality with a winning manner who is adept at handling his cues from one introduction to another with a sure touch. His skills as pianist and arranger were manifest in the two dozen or so songs that he put into this evening. All his friends were secure in the knowledge that they were in safe hands.
His deft technique made light of the brassy accompaniment inherent in the show’s opening song ‘Big Time’, while his vocal arrangement for three female voices (Alice Fearn, Rachel Knowles and Wendy Carr) of ‘I Could Write a Book’, demonstrated an appreciation of the simple melody, leaving himself a few bars to highlight its old fashioned virtues.
Barstow can harmonise too as he did in a very accomplished trio with Aaron Lee Lambert and Danny Lane as The Trolls in ‘Fixer Upper’ from Frozen. However, it was another ensemble that got this show up and running when Lambert and Lane were joined by Richard Carson for the ladies trio ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’ from Company, where they performed Sondheim’s tongue twister with aplomb.
Not content with that impersonation, Danny Lane, a talent to mark, was very convincing as Rose in Gypsy, delivering ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ without batting an eyelid!
Barstow also included three of his own songs, one of them the result of a competition to write a musical in 24 hours. Lambert also contributed with his composition ‘On That Sunday’ in which Carson lived every moment.
Just before the interval Alex Young gave an outstanding performance of another Sondheim tongue twister, ‘Sunday in the Park With George’. Young’s expressive delivery, in my opinion, a match for that of Bernadette Peters on the original Broadway cast recording.
Later, she took on another challenge with Barstow’s ‘So, You See’, a dramatic scena drawn from the screenplay of Erin Brockovich.
Our host’s admirable idea of inviting his cast to select their own material was a bit of a hit and miss affair. Wendy Carr introducing a song from The Sweet Smell of Success by Marvin Hamlisch, Craig Carnelia and John Guare, dwelt on the appeal to artists of songs cut from shows, but her choice of ‘That’s How I Say Goodbye’ was a reminder that even a songwriter of Hamlisch’s calibre can have an off-day.
However Landi Oshinowo made a convincing case for ‘Old Friend’ from I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road, a show about to be resurrected after lapsing into oblivion after a quick exit from the West End in 1981.
Another medley where Wendy Carr was joined by Alice Fearn and Jackie Marks dwelt on the theme of space on one’s own patch. It included the neat lyrics of ‘My House’ from Matilda the Musical, though the performance itself highlighted an overall tendency to stridency during the evening.
This was partly due to the sound balance that touched on no dynamic range below mezzo forte and a programme where the songs themselves were larger than life, something to be taken care of when planning material drawn from the musical theatre repertoire.
Looking ahead to future performances which this talented group will surely give, a biographical note on each artist in the programme, which is surely their due, as well as asking whether fewer of them in number, would play to the show’s advantage.