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PURE IMAGINATION: The Songs of Leslie Bricusse – Review

Cast of Pure Imagination
Cast of Pure Imagination

Despite being nominated for 5 ‘Tonys’ and 8 ‘Oscars’ (winning two on the way), the name of composer, lyricist, and playwright, Leslie Bricusse is not one that automatically springs to mind when thinking about musicals and musical theatre.  But all that is going to change with the world premiere of “Pure Imagination: The Songs of Leslie Bricusse” at St James Theatre.

As soon as I picked up the programme I realised that not only did I know Leslie’s work but had grown up with many of his songs being quite prominent at various stages in my life. For example, the song ‘Out of Town’ was used as the them to the Sunday afternoon show of the same name that was on TV from the year of my birth to 1981.

The show celebrates the work of Leslie with fifty one songs taken from a back catalogue of work that includes Leslie’s pieces written solo through various collaborations and ultimately to material penned during the massively successful years of collaboration with Anthony Newley.

Pure Imagination Evie Bricusse, Leslie Bricusse, Petula Clark
Pure Imagination Opening Night
Evie Bricusse, Leslie Bricusse, Petula Clark

The show started, with ‘Pure Imagination’ – currently wowing the crowds at the end of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – with the cast, The Joker (Giles Terera),The Man (Dave Willetts), The Woman (Siobhan McCarthy), The Boy (Niall Sheehy) and The Girl (Julie Atherton) appearing on the steps by the side of the audience and moving down to the stage. Whilst there was no direct story to link all the songs together, they were sung in segments, often started with a quick rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’ sung by The Joker, which led onto a small story involving one or more of the four other singers. All five singers were fantastic performing really well both in solo numbers and combinations from two to all five covering every type of musical style possible with some very nifty dancing in places to top off their great performances.

There were some seriously amazing tunes in the first act alone, including lovely ‘mash-ups’ such as ‘Hollywood Wives’ and ‘Two Timer’ – two songs from a new musical ‘Sunday Dallas’ that blended so well together you would think they were always supposed to be sung as one. The first act ended on a massively high note as Musical Director Michael England swapped his grand piano for a battered old Joanna and the cast treated us to a good old fashioned East End knees up, including an explanation of cockney rhyming slang with ‘Down the Apples and Pears’. After the interval, we were back into the swing with some amazing versions of old classics – ‘Goldfinger’ sung as a mash-up with ‘Mr Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang’ was superb – including collaborations with Tchaikovsky ‘The Dream’ and Gershwin ‘Paris in the Spring’ and – a complete surprise to me – the original theme to the ‘Pink Panther’ with words I never realised it had, and some very funny acting by the cast.

“Pure Imagination The Songs of Leslie Bricusse” is a night of amazing songs from a highly talented lyricist and composer, delivered by a multi-talented cast on a stage which looked absolutely amazing – a line of sheet music going from the stage, over the back video wall and finishing on the piano. I have one minor gripe though. Since I knew so little about Leslie, I would have liked a narration in between segments like you get in “Side by Side by Sondheim” so that I could learn more about Leslie and his life. This is pretty minor though as the entire evening was a truly amazing experience for any lover of musicals and musical theatre. The show ended with a truly awesome rendition of the 1964 hit ‘Feeling Good’ and I have to admit, that’s exactly how I was as I left the theatre.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Danielle Tarento presents the world première of Pure Imagination: THE SONGS OF LESLIE BRICUSSE

Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination”
Celebrate the songs of Leslie Bricusse, one of the most prolific and well loved film and musical theatre songwriters of our time.

Whether writing alone or forming magical partnerships – including Anthony Newley, Henry Mancini, John Williams and John Barry – double Oscar and Grammy Award winner Leslie Bricusse’s music has touched us all in some way.

He has composed over 1,000 songs and written the book, music and/or lyrics for more than 40 musical films and plays over a 60-year career. This heartwarming and uplifting show includes such favourites as What Kind Of Fool Am I?, If I Ruled The World, Talk To The Animals, Le Jazz Hot, Feeling Good, Goldfinger and many, many more.

Pure Imagination: The Songs of Leslie Bricusse
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes approximately including an interval
24th September – 17th October 2015

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