The Wit and Whimsy of Alexander S Bermange – St James Theatre

Cassidy Janson

Cassidy Janson appeared as a guest star in The Wit and Whimsy of Alexander S Bermange

The Wit and Whimsy of Alexander S Bermange – An Evening of Comic Songs was performed at the St James Theatre Studio, London.

Following its debut last July, The Wit and Whimsy of Alexander S Bermange was reprised at St James Theatre Studio with a revised and updated selection of songs, featuring newly-penned numbers alongside established favourites. Composer-lyricist Alexander S Bermange’s varied career has crystallised around two main areas of activity: first, he is the author of some 20 musicals mainly on folkloristic and historical subjects, which have enjoyed performances all over the UK and around the world; and second, he is resident songwriter and performer of humorous musical commentaries on current affairs for BBC Radio 4 and World Service. Wit and Whimsy represents Bermange’s most ambitious undertaking to date in bringing these two strands of his artistic output together by creating a comic musical show.

As he faultlessly executed complex song after complex song, linked by carefully crafted monologues, Bermange seemed perfectly at home onstage at the piano. Evidently the product of meticulous research, his comic numbers are strikingly topical, demonstrating a wide knowledge of contemporary events, popular culture and technological developments. Highlights of his set included musical paeans to David Beckham and Prince Harry, a song about being held in a neverending telephone queue, another about a euphoric betting addict, a love ballad to an ugly partner and a satirical profiling of the leaders of the UK’s major political parties.

Bermange’s music is catchy and accessible, characterised by pleasing melodies and fluent harmonies . A cerebral songwriter, his work includes a wealth of ironic allusions: from Vivaldi, Bach and Beethoven, to Brahms’ lullaby, several Christmas carols, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and the James Bond theme tune (twice), it seems as though no music is truly safe from his droll treatment. Some of these references are easily spotted – one song, in homage to the Olympics, clearly aped ‘Chariots of Fire’ – but many others were surreptitiously hidden in between lines or verses.

Replete with word-play, punning and double-entendre, the finer detail of Bermange’s lyrics is equally subtle, such that it can stretch the audience on occasion – he sang about telling a cold-caller that “I want to be, not have, a loan (alone)” and remarked that in the past, “a nap (an app) was on your bed, not on your phone”. The influence of the legendary Tom Lehrer was evident in one or two of the numbers, notably ‘A Trainspotter’s Tale’, which saw Bermange impressively rattle off a long list of obscure London underground stations at speed in a song that undoubtedly required a considerable degree of concentration to perform.

Directed by Michael Strassen, Wit and Whimsy included special guests Julie Atherton (Avenue Q, Sister Act, Mamma Mia!) and Cassidy Janson (Avenue Q, Wicked, Lend Me a Tenor, Candide). Both West End leading ladies were in fine voice as they ably animated Bermange’s songs onstage, the former paying homage to his musical theatre repertory in presenting a specially adapted version of the showstopping ‘My Prince’ from the musical Odette. The ensemble finale, ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good’, a testament to Bermange’s lyrical preoccupation with mobile technologies and social media, ensured the audience left with their toes tapping, with its captivating vocal harmonies skilfully executed by Atherton and Janson.

Christopher Wiley

The Wit and Whimsy of Alexander S Bermange returns to the stage at London’s The Crazy Coqs on Monday 28 July 2014.

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