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Showtune: Celebrating the Words & Music of Jerry Herman

Showtune - Photograph by Jamie Scott-Smith
Showtune – Photograph by Jamie Scott-Smith

Showtune is a very apt name for this production – there are forty-eight musical numbers crammed into a show with a running time of less than two hours including an interval. The more seasoned followers of Jerry Herman’s musicals will, no doubt, be able to work out which verses have been cut, what lyrics have been changed, and so on, to fit the loose narrative of this production.

Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no details given about what songs came from which show, whether the shows were hits on Broadway, or details about the life and times of Jerry Herman, composer and lyricist. I suppose it’s possible to read all about that elsewhere in any event, and it allows time to be devoted instead to delivering songs. But there’s dance to enjoy as well as song, and the ten-strong cast undergo many costume changes during the evening – all (well, nearly all) glitz and glamour.

‘Tap Your Troubles Away’ from Mack and Mabel was particularly memorable for strong choreography, and when it comes down to it, the cast generally sing better in harmony than when given a moment to shine on their own. That said, the stand-out performances in this show come from the suitably named Man 1 (Aidan Cutler) and Woman 1 (Alex Burns), whose voices project the strongest in a production that doesn’t (as far as I could deduce) use microphones.

It was good to hear arrangements of some of Herman’s tunes that differ from the way in which they are usually delivered at, for instance, musical theatre concerts. ‘I Am What I Am’ is sung here by the entire cast, and in the second half, the narrative of ‘Song on the Sand’ (another tune from La Cage Aux Folles) applies to several couples instead of just one.

The show is bookended by scenes in dressing rooms – at the start, the cast puts on their Sunday clothes (geddit?), while for others, ‘A Little More Mascara’ is needed before going on stage. At the end, after the curtain call, the audience witnesses frantic backstage scenes as the cast head home for the night (perhaps some of them will sign things at stage door and so on), having very rapidly changed out of show costumes and into regular clothing.

Henry Brennan plays the piano seemingly effortlessly, the only instrument to accompany the cast’s voices. ‘I Promise You A Happy Ending’, another one from Mack and Mabel, lives up to its pledge as the cast raises the roof to the sound ‘The Best of Times’. And in the troubled times in which we live, lyrics like “So hold this moment fast / And live and love as hard as you know how / And make this moment last / Because the best of times is now” are both poignant and memorable.

Songs are grouped together by theme rather than by musical – firstly, the excitement of performing live theatre, then the different perspectives of love and relationships. After the interval, it’s all about life for people in the movie industry, before the show segues into the deep feelings associated with romance, and then coming full circle to the sort of joyful melodies that the show began with. It’s a production best enjoyed by sitting back and appreciating it simply for what it is – a slick and stylish presentation of some well-known musical theatre standards mixed in with less familiar tunes.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Prepare yourself for a slice of musical theatre heaven.
An entire evening of Jerry Herman music and lyrics.
SHOWTUNE delivers everything that its title promises and then some!
No lyric is left unsung in this top-notch retrospective of Herman’s phenomenal career in songwriting. Familiar tunes from such illustrious titles as ‘Hello Dolly!’, ‘Mame’ and ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ will be stuck in your head long after this charming show ends.
A performer-driven piece that has its heart in Herman’s words, it is the perfect celebration for the recipient of the 2009 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.

Showtune: Jerry Herman
Direction & Staging – Luke Byrne
Assisted by – Emily Stanghan
MD – Henry Brennan
Lighting – Matthew Swithinbank
Stage/Costume Design – Luke Aiden Byrne
Producer – Sasha Regan
Associate Producer – Maison Kelley
Casting: Adam Braham

The Union Theatre Presents:
SHOWTUNE
CELEBRATING THE WORDS & MUSIC OF JERRY HERMAN
With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Paul Gilger
Running: 10th August – 24th August 2019

Performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited on behalf of Josef Weinberger Limited
Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London, SE1 0LR

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