In the second instalment of their The Songs Of … series, Flourish Productions have chosen Alan Menken. Menken is the composer of the scores to many Disney classics including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocohontas, Hercules to name just a few. He is also the composer for a number of Broadway musicals including Newsies, Sister Act, Little Shop of Horrors and Leap of Faith. His compositions have been written with numerous lyricists and so the song cycle was probably more about the musical compositions of Alan Menken. With such a huge number of songs to select from, many of which are well known to audiences, Flourish Productions has selected an interesting mix of beloved classics and interwoven them with some songs that will be new to most audiences.
A completely different cast to the first in the series, The Songs of Alan Menken cast include Josh Ellwood, Zuleika Khan, Vanessa Menjivar, Emily Paddon-Brown, Liam O’Byrne and Jeff Van De Zandt.
A beautiful ‘Overture’ arranged and performed by musical director Lucy O’Brien on keyboard set the scene, with some familiar refrains. This was immediately followed by a bold entrance from Vanessa Menjivar who delivered a confident and sassy rendition of ‘Zero to Hero’ (Hercules), full of energy that immediately grabbed the attention of the audience.
Josh Ellwood brought a delightfully funny performance of ‘Need To Know’ (Weird Romance) skilfully articulating the story of the song with precise diction, whilst convincing the audience of the 10 year old character telling the story. His versatility was later demonstrated by beautiful renditions of ‘Warm Spring Night’ (King David) and the stand alone number ‘Sailing On.’
Zuleika Khan gave a touching and considered performance of ‘The Life I Never Led’ (Sister Act) then showed her character portrayal skills with a fabulous performance of ‘Mother Knows Best.’ (Tangled)
Emily Paddon-Brown gave a strong performance of ‘Watch What Happens’ (Newsies) and was doing an excellent job telling the story about how she didn’t know what to write when she ironically suddenly lost her place and didn’t know what to sing. However, she immediately found her place and finished out what was quite a long song with such a confidence you’d think nothing had just happened. Also demonstrating diversity of styles, Paddon-Brown brought a beautiful rendition of ‘Just Around the Riverbend’ (Pocohontas).
Liam O’Byrne gave a strong performance of Santa Fe (Newsies) and ‘Suddenly Seymour’ (Little Shop of Horrors).
Jeff Van de Zandt was every bit the egotistical Gaston audiences love/loathe from Beauty and the Beast in his performance of ‘Me’ then contrasted it later with a heartfelt performance of ‘Out There’ (Hunchback of Notre Dame).
Director Matthew Lockitt has very cleverly segued the songs to create a very smooth and connected transition from one song to the next. This was particularly well done with the transition from ‘I Wanna Be A Rockette’ (Kicks) to ‘Me’ (Beauty and the Beast) and also from ‘Out There’ (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to ‘Mother Knows Best’ (Tangled).
The song cycle featured solo numbers and others performed by several performers and had some clever choreography to a number of songs that was appropriate for the small stage space and the type of performances. Also well choreographed was the movement of microphone stands on and off the stage and the very quick adjustments required whenever a new performer was standing in front of each stand. I expected it may have caused some problems but the cast managed it quickly and effortlessly and it meant there was no real down time during musical introductions.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was the finale with a fun performance of ‘Under The Sea’ that included not only wonderful harmonies, but filled the room with bubbles and had the audience singing along. The Songs of Alan Menken is enjoyable and entertaining song cycle that will leave you with a big smile on your face.
Hopefully these two performances won’t be the last of this song cycle.