The storyline, at surface level, is deceptively simple in The New York-London Rendezvous, which in essence is two people having a few drinks having not seen one another in a while. One could take the premise of this annual meetup to shreds in the digital era in which we live; have they not heard of email, Skype, Facebook or even the humble telephone? The seeming inability and/or unwillingness to tell all until this meeting becomes even stranger when a smartphone is pulled out: do they even have each other’s numbers? We are not given a date or year in which this particular rendezvous takes place, though the references in the conversations very strongly suggest the present: London, 2016.
There are, to be fair (and notwithstanding me forgetting to suspend disbelief at the theatre door), certain things that are best discussed face-to- face, especially between close friends, and here, there are one or two deep-seated issues that are addressed through both spoken dialogue and song. George (George Rae) has never quite gotten over a family bereavement from decades ago, and Valerie (Valerie Cutko) has had a major career setback. Make what you will of actors playing actors.
The whole thing is short and (mostly) sweet, with an excellently subtle transition between spoken word and sung lyrics, and back again. The songs have clearly been carefully chosen, and, where appropriate, lyrics adapted to the plot of this show. There’s a wonderfully broad selection of songs, from tunes I’ve never come across before to the well-known ‘Rose’s Turn’ from Gypsy, and even this production couldn’t resist a reference to Imelda Staunton in that marvellous performance as Momma Rose at Chichester in 2014 and then the Savoy Theatre in 2015. And who hasn’t heard of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’? It’s given a more than justified treatment at the close of this rendezvous.
Stephen Sondheim’s works heavily feature, with – fortunately or unfortunately – not even a scintilla of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s material. The musical director, Matheson Bayley, is flawless at the piano, rather impressively knocking out tune after tune with flair and panache, without any sheet music whatsoever.
Added to that, two of his own compositions feature in this musical. (A musical is what this show essentially is. Although billed as a cabaret, there’s never a breaching of the fourth wall, and the moments of laughter are hardly the result of cheap gags, as there aren’t any.)
With the only props being the ones necessary to make an evening at a bar credible (is that actual champagne they’re rewarding themselves with on stage?), the words and music are relied upon to carry the narrative forward. There’s some choreography, always in good taste, and the show could work just as well as a radio broadcast: it is not strictly necessary to see what is going on to follow the plot. I doubt there are plans for a cast recording of such a modest production, but I’d buy it if I could.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Summer 2016. Every year two friends meet on the same day in their two favourite cities to catch up and go over old times. One year it’s London, the next New York, then London, then New York and so on. This year the rendezvous is in London…Join the Yank and the Brit as they share stories, have a few laughs, pour out their sorrows, make fun of the world and, most of all, sing..
“The New York – London Rendezvous” is a cabaret evening of laughter and tears, a celebration of love and friendship, and some of the best songs on offer, brought to you by two of the warmest performers from the West End.
“The New York – London Rendezvous” is at Canal Cafe Theatre on Sunday May 29 and Sunday June 5.
George Rae (who was nominated Best Male Performance in the Off West End awards as Otto Kringelein in Grand Hotel) was Timon in Disney’s The Lion King, TJ in Sister Act; Ko-Ko in The Mikado (UK tour) and had featured roles in Whisky
Galore – A Musical!, Kiss Me Kate and Company
Valerie Cutko (Raffaela, female companion to a fading prima ballerina in Grand Hotel) played Mrs Mullin in Carousel at Arcola theatre and Fraulein Kost in Cabaret, directed by Rufus Norris in the West End. She also played Raffaela in the original Broadway run of Grand Hotel.
Director Jake Murray
Musical Director Matheson Bayley
Produced by Music to Your Ear Productions.