Song cycles seem to be rapidly becoming the trendy ‘in thing’ in musical theatre. By no means is this a complaint. Song cycles are such a beautiful way to experience the depth and breadth of the work of some pretty special contributors to the art that we love so much. Without all the bells and whistles, one is invited to truly appreciate the core of these works and the composers and lyricists behind them. Flourish Productions have really taken to celebrating these concert-style presentations, having produced three in total this year in their ‘Songs of’ series – The Songs of Ahrens and Flaherty, The Songs of Alan Menken and, now, Cy By Cy By Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman.
Coleman’s legacy is prolific and diverse. As the creative team emphasised in their note to the audience, Coleman was also a celebrated jazz-musician, rendering Bennett’s Lane ‘the perfect setting’. The presentation featured numbers from productions such as Seesaw, The Life, Little Me, City of Angels, On the Twentieth Century, Welcome to the Club, I Love My Wife, Barnum, Sweet Charity and The Will Rogers Follies.
The set-up of the space is very intimate. A piano alone on the stage, a blue curtain and some understated lighting. With a cast of six well-respected and incredibly talented performers on the very small stage at once, there was some concern from the beginning that this would result in a very cluttered experience. This was not once the case. The use of the space was very well calculated with visually appealing formations and seamless transitions between songs. While the cast was mostly always on stage a full company, their positioning was always spot on and any reshuffling was subtle and often worked exceptionally well with the focus material. The reactions of the non-performing cast often helped to inform the appropriate response from the audience and only worked to emphasise the mood. The chemistry on stage was great and made for a rich and relatable experience, and assisted in creating a sense of fluidity between numbers.
The selected songs for this presentation not only celebrated a very diverse collection of Coleman’s music, but also showcased the versatility these performers possess. Comprising of Meg Hoult, Luigi Lucente, Hollie James, Stephen Wheat, Nicole Melloy and Henry Brett, this was a cast certainly up for the challenge. The allocation of numbers to each performer worked exceptionally well, with each performer revelling in the opportunity to explore rich, jazzy vocals and well as more character driven material. The work certainly suited the collective and made for a very enjoyable sound. Musical director, Lucy O’Brien certainly paid due justice to Coleman’s legacy. Unfortunately, there were moments that the sound quality hindered the experience of patrons, particularly when the microphones seemed to be simply turned off. It is anticipated that a mistake as small as this would be remedied in future performances.
Henry Brett wowed with his smooth, seemingly effortless vocals throughout the piece, but perhaps his greatest moments are found in his portrayal of Sweet Charity’s Oscar Lindquist, particularly in his delightfully awkward, and incredibly captivating performance of ‘I’m The Bravest Individual’, opposite Hollie James.
James herself impressed with her ability to so convincingly and effortlessly transition between the more light-hearted character performances and those that required a real and raw emotional connection. Her performance of ‘My Friend’, alongside Nicole Melloy was touching
Melloy was a true vision and certainly to advantage of any opportunity to connect with the audience. Her vocals were outstanding and very much suited Coleman’s style. Particularly humorous was her dead-pan drummer girl performance during ‘Le Grand Boom Boom’.
The star of ‘Boom Boom’, Stephen Wheat perhaps showed the greatest versatility, jumping from suave and collected performances to unexpectedly reveling in the realm of the highly energetic and quirky.
Meg Hoult also found strength in her versatility with a dynamic and diverse performance of her own. A very animated and charismatic performer, it was great to see Hoult command the stage in ‘My Unknown Someone’.
Finally, it was as if Coleman wrote specifically for Luigi Lucente. His tone and charisma plain and simply fit the bill. A beautifully consistent and endearing performance.
While the short, three performance season has now come to an end, the future is indeed bright for Flourish Productions. The success of their song cycles this year definitely rouses intrigue for what 2016 holds.