Pure Imagination – The Songs of Leslie Bricusse – St James Theatre

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Siobhan McCarthy, Dave Willetts, Niall Sheehy and Julie Atherton in Pure Imagination at St James Theatre, London. Picture: Annabel Vere

Pure Imagination – The Songs of Leslie Bricusse continues at the St James Theatre, London until 17 October.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

In a relatively short time this theatre has established itself as a home for exhilarating compilation shows. This latest one celebrates the long and prolific career of Leslie Bricusse. Some people may not be familiar with the name but they will certainly be familiar with his work.

For more than 60 years he has composed over 1,000 songs and written the book, music and/or lyrics for 40 musical films and plays. When not writing solo, he has enjoyed successful working partnerships with, amongst others, Henry Mancini, John Williams and John Barry.

But it was during the 1960s and 1970s with Anthony Newley that he enjoyed a most fruitful partnership. Together they wrote several musicals including Stop The World – I Want to Get Off (the show that introduced me to musical theatre when, as a school boy, I skipped doing my homework to see a touring production at the Brighton Hippodrome).

Pure Imagination is simply presented with a fine onstage, five-piece band (musical director/orchestrator is Michael England) and a cast of five: Dave Willetts, Siobhan McCarthy, Niall Sheehy, Julie Atherton and Giles Terera.

Tim Goodchild’s set consists of a circular projection screen from which an arc of sheet music runs down to and around the floor area. Although, within a couple of hours, the audience gets some 51 numbers, they are but a fragment of Bricusse’s output.

The chosen song list provides a fascinating insight into the range of the man’s work and mixes the blockbusters/mega hits with a good assortment of less familiar gems. The choice stretches from ‘Love Is’, a song written in 1953 for the Cambridge Footlights Revue to Sunday Dallas, his latest but as yet unperformed new musical.

The cast kicks off with six songs that flow into each other, non-stop. Two classics follow: Willetts releases his vocal power for ‘Once in a Lifetime’ and Terera brings an updated verse to ‘If I Ruled The World’. Terera also scores a success with ‘The Joker’.

McCarthy and Atherton get to share a segment featuring four beautiful ballads which they deliver with great sensitivity. They also duet later in a powerful version of ‘In His Eyes’.

Amongst the contributions from Sheehy there is an excellently controlled ‘This is the Moment’ – a slow build erupting into a thrilling crescendo.

Act I closes with a selection that allows a good old Cockney knees-up and homage to music hall. It even includes ’My Old Man’s a Dustman’ to which Bricusse was a contributor, albeit under a pseudonym.

McCarthy gets to open Act II with a sizzling ‘Le Jazz Hot’ accompanied by choreography that gives a nod to Bob Fosse (musical staging by Matthew Cole).

The film world of James Bond is evoked by a trio of numbers including ‘Goldfinger’ as Willetts spoofs 007 with some gentle tomfoolery. ‘Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ was written for the 1965 Thunderball movie but was never used.

A word of appreciation here for the information listed in the programme which gives the origin of each song and its history.

Audience members were quick to cheer the show’s storming finale before they were on their feet to applaud the curtain calls. The cast then reflected the audience’s ovation towards Leslie Bricusse who was seated amongst them.

Throughout the production, deftly directed by Christopher Renshaw, ‘Pure Imagination’ ran as a motif, his song from the 1971 movie Williy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It made one marvel at the imagination of Bricusse to create such a great canon of work.

Barrie Jerram

www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

After the performance of Pure Imagination on Wednesday 7 October, there will be a Q&A session with Leslie Bricusse.

Readers may also be interested in:

Interview – Part One  – Triple threat writer Leslie Bricusse on what inspires his Pure Imagination 

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