“Keep it shallow, keep it pretty, keep it moving,” declares Justin Vivian Bond, letting the audience determine for themselves what precisely is really meant by ‘it’ – I doubt it meant the show: Only An Octave Apart has considerable emotional depth when it wants to, such that, whatever it is, it’s anything but shallow. It’s a show that defies convention and is difficult to categorise. Calling it a cabaret act doesn’t quite cut it: Bond’s co-star, Anthony Roth Costanzo, known for playing numerous leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, as well as performances at Glyndebourne and the English National Opera, sings various extracts from his opera career.
Costanzo has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Madison Square Garden, a point not lost on Bond, who might have preferred somewhere even more intimate than Wilton’s Music Hall (capacity: 400), such are the venues in which Bond’s own shows apparently usually take place. A nine-piece orchestra glide through a highly eclectic mix of tunes and melodies, with the closing numbers alone indicative of the evening as a whole. Announcing they would sing a bit of Dido to close proceedings, this really meant ‘Dido’s Lament’ from the opera Dido and Aeneas, written by Henry Purcell (c. 1659-1695), blending into ‘White Flag’ by Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong (born 1971), which might as well be the name of an opera composer, but is a singer-songwriter commonly known by her stage name, Dido.
Blending styles in this manner is an approach that makes opera accessible, with an early quip from Bond about waking up and already being at the opera (because one has drifted into the Land of Nod) doing much to break the ice. The chart music selections, too, were a delight to listen to, with the dynamic duo even performing a full disco number, complete with pulsating beats and flashing lights. Their glorious rendering of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ is worth the price of a ticket alone.
There’s a very natural feeling to proceedings, in that the pair’s dialogue had a conversational feel to it, providing a warm and inviting environment in which the audience felt included. The sound balance between the orchestra and Bond and Costanzo’s voices was excellent throughout the performance, as good a blend as the mixture of music genres itself. There are quite a few costume changes, though I was frankly too busy enjoying proceedings to count them, with much to admire each and every time.
It is always a delight to see people enjoying themselves whilst performing, and this pair are living proof that opposites attract: the cabaret singer and opera countertenor paradoxically and simultaneously contrast and complement one another, producing something that on paper probably isn’t supposed to work. It does, however, with a ‘something for everyone’ approach which is bold and maybe a bit bizarre in places, but it’s always gritty, always engaging and always charming. At the performance I attended, the audience clearly wanted more, and a fellow theatregoer had enjoyed their experience so much they had come back to see it all over again. That is an even greater compliment than this review could provide such a captivating and charismatic production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Only An Octave Apart is Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo’s joyous and surprising musical fantasia, revelling in everything strange and beautiful in the coexistence of contrasts – from Purcell’s 17th-century aria “Dido’s Lament” to Dido’s early 2000s hit “White Flag”, from “Autumn Leaves” to “The Waters of March”. Co-created and directed by Zack Winokur, with music supervision by Thomas Bartlett, arrangements by Nico Muhly, musical direction by Daniel Schlosberg, and costume design by JW Anderson, Only an Octave Apart celebrates the historical and the hysterical, from countertenor to counterculture.
Presented by Creative Partners Productions and Kindred Partners
In association with Justin Vivian Bond | Anthony Roth Costanzo | Zack Winokur
And St. Ann’s Warehouse
28th September to 22nd October 2022