Director and performer Tim McArthur is carving himself somewhat of a niche staging musical tributes to the lesser known works of great writers. Following the success of last year’s Sondheim revue, Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures, he returns to the Jermyn Street Theatre with this enjoyable celebration of the works of Rodgers & Hart.
The tiny, intimate space of the Jermyn Street Theatre is ideal for such a show, with Russell Fisher’s set transforming the stage into a 30s nightclub, the perfect backdrop for this mix of classics and lesser known works. The fact that cast lounge around at tables, flirt with the pianist and sip drinks throughout, only a few feet away from the audience, adds to this pleasingly louche nightlife vibe.
The cast are all able and charismatic performers, and although none of them are outstanding singers, this isn’t a huge drawback – after all, many of the actors we’ve seen sing these numbers in the films that made them famous weren’t particularly gifted vocalists. In a well-paced mix of solos, duets and ensemble songs, each one of them gets a chance to shine: particular standout numbers includeLaura Armstrong’s sly, pitch black ode to murder, ‘To Keep My Love Alive’ and Katie Kerr’s spirited ‘Ten Cents a Dance’, while Valerie Cutko brings her unique brand of sizzling, slinky androgyny to ‘A Lady Must Live’ and Tim McArthur and Stephen Ashfield get plenty of laughs with the jaunty number, ‘Come With Me.’ Supported throughout by musical director David Harvey on the piano, the company also meshes well together, with ‘Hollywood Party’ and ‘The Girlfriend’ working particularly well.
The show is a smart mix of standards and lesser known works: even the most casual Rogers and Hart fan will be familiar with songs like ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘Isn’t it Romantic’, or the title number, ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, although some of the other numbers will only be know to completists. And it’s this that is the only real flaw in the show – in fact, a problem with the idea of resurrecting the lesser performed works of any songwriter, because these songs tend to be less frequently performed for a reason. The truth is that, often, some songs become classics and some don’t not because of some whim of fate or public opinion, but because even the best songwriters don’t always write classics. Presenting a showcase of lesser known works means almost necessarily populating a show with weaker songs, and every time one of the timeless classics appeared, it had me wishing that I could hear more of those, and less of songs I neither recognised nor particularly cared for. That caveat aside, while it may not win over any doubters, this is undeniably a treat for Rogers & Hart fans.