Composer/Lyricist: John Bucchino
Reviewer: Leon Paul
Musical theatre composer John Bucchino returned to the London stage to perform songs from his catalogue of impressive &expressive repertoire, ably &at times movingly accompanied by a plethora of fantastic international performers.The informal cabaret evening held in the beautiful surroundings of The St James’ Theatre’s Studio was full to the brim with fellow composer/lyricists, performers, producers &other theatre professionals, giving an indication of the esteem in which his contemporaries hold Bucchino.
Bucchino was greeted by a rapturous round of applause by the audience as he took to the stage, somewhat nervously; explaining that he doesn’t usually perform, let alone for two shows in one day. He began by singing ‘That Smile’ with a vocal style reminiscent of Randy Newman &virtuosic piano skills that enraptured the musicians in the audience. This was beaten only by Bucchino’s later admission that he doesn’t read music &composes entirely by ear with the assistance of musical notation programmes, a revelation that send gasps of incredulousness around the room!
After his light &welcoming opening he was joined on stage by Hila Plitmann whose delicate, soprano rendition of ‘Sweet Dreams’; a song stylistically reminiscent of the early work on Joni Mitchell, was hauntingly &skillfully performed. Plitmann also sang ‘This Moment’ later in the show with equal skill.‘When You’re Here’ was performed by Phoebe Coupe who gave a nuanced &thoughtful performance of this comedy number.John Barr, who sang ‘If I Ever Say I’m Over You’ in the first half &‘Grateful’ (to close the show) performed with delicacy &an honest connection to Bucchino’s wonderful lyrics.
There were two very complex patter songs in the show: ‘A Contact High’, about a teenager trying to convince her parents that she hadn’t been smoking marijuana sung brilliantly &with excellent comic timing, by Suzanna Kempner, &later ‘Painting My Kitchen’, a song about suffering from writers’ block &following the advice of a therapist about writing about banal activities sung expertly by Matthew Barrow, despite his caveat to the audience prior to starting that ‘this is the hardest song in the world!’.Christian Lund performed ‘Unexpressed’ &later ‘Better Than I’ (arguably Bucchino’s most well known song) with wonderful stillness &thought.
Bucchino introduced every song &provided context to the writing of each one accordingly. Sometimes it was because Stephen Schwartz (‘you may have heard of him’), Harvey Fierstein or even Stephen Sondheim had urged him to do so. He also discussed his work on a collection of short musicals based on the urban legends of New York, called ‘Urban Myths’. Belinda Wollaston performed ‘Temporary’ from one of these shows, which is a song sung by a mother to her child about life being temporary, transient &uncertain; an attempt to help them both understand the death of her husband in the war.Sophia Ragavelas sang two songs from ‘A Catered Affair’, which Bucchino adapted for the stage with Harvey Fierstein the first was ‘One White Dress’ &later ‘Don’t Ever Stop Saying I Love You’. The first was full of the excitement &exuberance of trying on a wedding dress for the first time &the second a request by the character to her fiancé that they should always tell each other that they love each other.
The penultimate song in the first half was performed by the sensational Amelia Cormack, who sang ‘I’ve Learned To Let Things Go’. This reviewer has heard this song performed on countless occasions, but never before have I been so moved by a performance as I was by Cormack’s, who utterly stole the show with this song as well as ‘The Song With The Violins’ in which she sang &played violin simulateously.The final song in the first half was this reviewer’s favourite of the whole evening. ‘On My Bedside Table’ is a break-up song about not writing a song about a break-up &is utterly superb.
The second half was opened by Suzanna Kempner, performing ‘Love Quiz’ about the unsuitability of a partner &the inevitable end of a relationship when one realizes that the other person is no good for them…Linnea Stenbeck sang ‘It Feels Like Home’ with wonderful story-telling, really engaging with individual members of the audience.After also singing the penultimate number ‘Home Away From Home’ Bucchino finished the show with ‘Learn to Say Goodbye’, a poignant end to an exceptional evening of musical theatre, entertaining anecdotes &world-class performances.