It can be a good thing, sometimes, to liken something to something else, when writing a review. It helps paint a picture of what a show is like without giving too much away. For instance, if a new musical contains a lot of storytelling through description, I might compare it to Jersey Boys, famed for its stand-and-deliver approach to unfolding the plot. But every so often a show comes along – and there’s nothing to compare it to. The closest thing I can think of to RE:Arrangement is a 2014 concert called West End Recast. That show had musical theatre actors singing show tunes from roles they would be unlikely to be cast in – Jenna Russell took on the title role in Sweeney Todd, while Emma Williams played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. And then there’s Forbidden Broadway, whose lyrics are remarkably observant, even if ‘lampooning’ tends to be the operative word.
This show, however, looks at the infinite possibilities that arise from setting the words of, say, ‘With One Look’ from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard, and set it to a different score. Imagine, if you will, sitting in the audience clicking your fingers to the lines, “With one look, I can break your heart / With one look, I play every part…” It is, of course, deliberately out of context, and if one forgets the ethereal atmosphere created by Norma Desmond and her imposing mansion, the jaunty version of the song is enjoyable. Which makes me wonder: what if every musical number in Sunset Boulevard was re-arranged? Would the storyline have to change, with different songs sung by different characters to the ones we are used to?
It’s difficult to categorise the style of a lot of the songs included in this concert, which all maintain a familiarity of sorts despite being packaged in a different arrangement. The exit poll seemed to indicate that everyone had their own favourites, depending on their frames of reference. An example: a unique take on ‘The Schuyler Sisters’, which saw Andy Coxon take on the role of Peggy (see what I mean about West End Recast?), alongside Simbi Akanda and Jenni Harding (I can only apologise for not being able to recall which one was Angelica, and which one Eliza) was appreciated more by people who have had the opportunity to see a production of Hamilton.
But, I hasten to add, it’s not like anyone who hasn’t seen a show being featured in the concert finds themselves at a complete loss at any given point. True – some songs naturally lend themselves better than others to being understood by all and sundry: ‘Hello Young Lovers’ from The King and I, sung beautifully by Caroline Sheen expresses near-universal themes of love and loss. A more obscure number, ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ from the Ivor Novello musical Perchance To Dream, sung by Noel Sullivan, was presented in the style of Jonathan Larson, which did, admittedly, bring the song from the 1950s to the 1990s.
I still haven’t seen Frozen, even though, because of the Broadway production, its music has officially entered the musical theatre canon. I can only assume the motion picture and stage show versions are fully orchestrated: this rendition was performed acapella, with some lovely harmonies. More than one affectionate nod was given in favour of Lloyd Webber – offerings included the title tune in ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’, ‘Think of Me’ from The Phantom of the Opera, and ‘Love Changes Everything’, the opening number from Aspects of Love.
Host and arranger Nick Barstow was kind enough to either indulge or impose on the audience (for me, the former) some less successful attempts at rearrangements, including one that I would call Thoroughly Postmodern Millie. I would have liked to have found out a little more as to why it was felt appropriate to push a show tune towards a certain revised arrangement, other than ‘ooh, that works, go with that’. Best enjoyed by the open-minded, RE:Arrangement is fresh, free-spirited and above all, fun.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Hailed by BroadwayWorld as “one of theatre’s most exciting young musical talents”, Nick Barstow is back with a brand new show that is a must-see for any musical theatre lover.
RE:Arrangement is a celebration of musical theatre like no other. Composer and (re)arranger Barstow will take the songs you think you know and turn them upside down. From Hammerstein to Hamilton, prepare for mashups, gender-flips and sparkling new arrangements of musical theatre classics.
West End cast includes Simbi Akande, Andy Coxon, Jennifer Harding, Alice Fearn (Sunday only), Caroline Sheen (Saturday only), and Noël Sullivan.
Co-conceived and directed by Kirk Jameson.
4th – 5th August 2018