A little bit of showbiz magic has come to London with a show that salutes one of the stage and screen’s most celebrated composers.
Pure Imagination takes a trip through the astonishing back catalogue of Leslie Bricusse whose diverse outpouring goes from My Old Man’s A Dustman, through Bonds and movie blockbuster scores, to his undoubted new success, Hollywood Wives.
This dazzling show opened last night at Victoria’s St James Theatre with a AAA audience of celebrities which included Joan Collins, former wife of Bricusse’s writing partner Anthony Newley, Petula Clark, and Hayley Mills.
The music doesn’t stop throughout the two-hour show. More than 50 instantly recognisable songs, reaching back over 50 years, are beautifully performed by a cast of five from the West End.
Mr Musicals, Dave Willetts; Book of Mormon’s Giles Terera; Niall Sheehy (Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Wicked); Siobhán McCarthy (Hairspray, Sweeney Todd) and Mamma Mia’s Julie Atherton perform as an ensemble and individually.
What doesn’t work as well is the framing device used by director Christopher Renshaw and producer Danielle Tarento (with input from the great man himself).
All five singers have been given characters and loosely act out scenarios to fit the songs. It works marvellously for Terera who plays The Joker, performing knockout renditions of What Kind Of Fool Am I and The Candy Man.
It is less convincing for the casually-dressed rest, Willetts and McCarthy as The Man and The Woman, and Atherton and Sheehy as young lovers, The Boy and The Girl.
But just sit back and listen to the wonderful lyrics. They need no dramatic interpretation for all of life can be found in their quirky, droll and romantic poetry.
Bricusse hit a high in the 1960s and ‘70s when he worked with Newley on musicals like Stop The World – I Want To Get Off, The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd and the (original) Willy Wonka soundtrack.
But he’s also responsible for Doctor Doolittle, Jekyll & Hyde, Victor/Victoria, Pickwick, the theme tunes to Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice..and on it goes.
Theatre-goers could be heard expressing their surprise that he’d written this and that..and his career carries on, even at the age of 84.
One of the favourites last night was an unknown but entirely apt song, Hollywood Wives. It comes from an as yet unperformed musical, Sunday Dallas. Witty, catchy and wry, its lyrics must surely have made Ms Collins smirk.
There is a brief music hall section, complete with rather dodgy Dick Van Dyke Cockney accents, featuring My Old Man’s A Dustman, Down The Apples & Pears, Thank You Very Much and a big finale – The Good Old Bad Old Days.
The second act sizzles with jazz, movie themes, songs for love and tunes to break up to, before a blockbuster finish with, Feeling Good, which has been covered by Nina Simone, Michael Bublé, Muse and George Michael, and left the crowd wanting more.
The cast give faultless performances, their huge voices filling the auditorium. Willetts’ vast range and depth is perfect for these songs while the all-singing and all-dancing Sheehy’s almost operatic voice drives through every ballad.
Terera’s exuberant personality is brought to the fore as he plays the jester and both McCarthy and Atherton’s melodic voices are packed with emotion.
Purely Imagination defies explanation. It’s just a magical, enthralling night’s entertainment.
Pure Imagination runs at St James Theatre until October 17.
Classy, magical and dazzling. Pure Imagination’s champagne tribute to the work of songwriter Leslie Bricusse at London’s St James Theatre.