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25 Year Songbook – The Pheasantry, London

Music: Matthew Strachan

Lyrics by Matthew Strachan and Bernie Gaughan

Reviewer: Jonathan Grant

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Pheasantry on Chelsea’s Kings Road was a sell-out for this lookback by Matthew Strachan on a selection of his compositions from the last quarter century.

The evening’s 25 song set set drew not only from the Strachan’s stage musicals, but also bore heavy reference to his early composing years, some of which had been spent in Nashville. The USA has clearly providing a significant influence on much of his creativity. His opening two numbers were Tennessee inspired , The Valley, followed by Better Than Him, both painting perceptive pictures of characters from contemporary America, whilst the truly modern song, Hands Up Who’s Looking At Me provided a clever comment on the ubiquitous presence of social networking media. The one performance of the night that jarred was Smells Like Teenage Suicide, a song inspired by aspects of the media response to the Columbine massacre. However noble Strachan’s intentions may have been in writing this song, the irony of his lyrics was stretched too thin, leaving his composition with the potential to deeply upset and offend.

As a writer of witty words, as well as a pianist, Strachan’s talents are immense. At times his performance bore more than a nod to Billy Joel with a liberal twist of Tom Lehrer thrown in, mixing humour and wry political comment, with outstanding keyboard skills. His fingers coaxed the Pheasantry’s grand piano across a range of genres and styles, from blues to ballad to honky-tonk in seamless segues. Accompanying the man on the night were four accomplished stars of musical theatre, Kim Ismay, Steven Carlile, Riona O Connor and Louise Gold, all of whom were outstanding. With neither props nor costumes, each singer offered a master-class in musical theatre story telling simply through use of voice, face and stage presence. Their vibrancy and talent however offered stark contrast to the fact that Strachan’s vocal strength did not match theirs. If he had given more of the show to the actors, rather than the miserly allocation of one song apiece, the evening would have been considerably closer to a 5 star event.

Strachan is clearly an accomplished musician. As well as his songwriting perhaps his most lucrative creative work to date has been that of writing the music for the TV gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Those catchy TV tunelets clearly demonstrate that Strachan has an ability to recognize what the public wants to hear. Outside the world of theatre and the music business however, his is a comparatively low profile. It will be interesting to see his work developed to be able to sustain larger mainstream audiences with shows that demand financial success. The quality of his writing suggests he truly has the potential to fill a West End venue.

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The Public Reviews was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.