Tag Archives: Burt Bacharach

“Promises Promises” at the Southwark Playhouse

The credentials for this musical are impeccable: a book by Neil Simon, with music and lyrics fromBurt Bacharach and Hal David. That should be enough to get you booking tickets. The endearing, nostalgic piece follows the adventures of New Yorker Chuck, who lends his flat to his bosses for their extra-marital affairs, while his own love life flounders.

Adapted from the 1960 movie The Apartment, it’s the script that dominates. There’s a lot of Simon here – no bad thing – playing with cynicism, packing in jolly touches and good plotting. If the songs don’t fuse into a score in the manner that makes some musicals heavenly, they are great numbers, with a trip to the back catalogue sublimely incorporated as an extra treat.

Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson

The smooth sounds are well performed and Bronagh Lagan’s direction has a calm pace that’s appropriate – disguising how much work her dozen cast members are doing – so the show feels like relaxed fun. There’s swinging going on (it’s the Sixties, after all) but, despite the Mad Men vibe, evoked especially well by Paul Robinson as the arch philanderer Sheldrake, the tones are pastel and the atmosphere oh-so cool.

Gabriel Vick and Alex Young
Gabriel Vick and Alex Young

Darker shades are present and handled well by leading lady Daisy Maywood, whose character Fran is driven to attempt suicide. The sobering moments are a little jarring and stem from the sexism within Promises Promises itself. Women are, literally, backing singers, playing secretaries and ‘pick ups’ (providing a blissful cameo for Alex Young). And the office Christmas party would give an HR department a fit. Lagan deals cleverly with the unsavoury middle-aged executives, presenting a collection of more sad than mad men that we can laugh at. It’s a sensible move, and the cast makes it work for them.

The saving grace is our heroine, at times displaying an emotional depth that overwhelms the show – welcome nonetheless – and Maywood’s acting is as strong as her powerful voice. The equally impressive Gabriel Vick, playing Chuck, joins her. Ostensibly, this is his character’s story. He’s a “puny” figure that Vick makes winning with perfectly pitched direct addresses to the audience. Fantasy conversations only endear us to him further. It’s the two leads who make the show, culminating in a gorgeous duet that is the fulfilment of all the talent on offer.

Until 18 February 2017


Photos by Claire Bilyard

“What’s It All About?” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

What it’s all about is simple – Burt Bacharach’s wonderful music – somewhat grandly described as “reimagined”. The brainchild of performer and arranger Kyle Riabko, this mash-up of much-altered classic songs takes the idea of a tribute show to a whole other level. It’s a must for fans of good music.

It’s really only theatre in a loose sense – the songs are woven together musically, but there are no detectable themes or stories. Instead, there’s an atmosphere of conviviality and overall relaxation. The show is full of wit and surprises, which are probably more obvious the more you know about the music. And it’s beautifully dressed, with a boho-chic set by Christine Jones and Brett Banakis.

Be warned, though. As an indication of how fresh Riabko’s ear is, the loud guitars proved too much for a couple of visitors. If some of the versions push the songs too far, it is always with the best of intentions and the skill of the performers cannot be questioned – it’s a privilege to hear talent like this.

If you think of these songs as old friends, this is less about revisiting them, and more about learning something new from them. A stirring tribute to Bacharach’s genius, showing how strong the great man’s writing is, it’s no surprise that he’s supported the show. And what more of a recommendation could you want than that?

Until 5 September 2015


Photo by Nobby Clark