Monday, February 9, 2015

'You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews' at the Garrick Theatre, 8th February 2015

You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews (henceforth YWSOBIYDHAJ) had the deck stacked against it from the start.  The evening, with the intention of celebrating "musical theatre and the ongoing Jewish contribution towards show-business" took place on Sunday evening, traditionally time for putting my feet up and working my way through a big pot of tea.

But, curious about the cumbersome, Python-referencing, title, I accepted a press invite without research as to what it was. I expected maybe a funny play or some kind of modest mini-musical. What I got was a 2 hour concert featuring established and up and coming Jewish musical stars making their way through a series of showtunes I didn't recognise from shows I'd never heard of.

Now, it's not that I straight up don't like showtunes. The West End is built on a foundation of lavish, long-running musicals and, as a London-based cultural critic it'd be perverse to overlook them. But as much as I can appreciate the craft and skill of the performers these drippy, naff ballads are really not my bag. 

On top of that, YWSOBIYDHAJ's performers were bedevilled by microphone problems from minute one. It'd be easier to count the songs that weren't technically hobbled than the ones that were. These issues ranged from an awful mixing job, resulting in a shrill, compressed whine whenever a performer really belted out a note - the most grandiose moments reduced to ear-damaging electronic squeals. Still, at least there we could actually hear the performers. About half the stage mics were either damaged or broken, leaving us with duets where we could only hear one performer and moments where a good performance was spoilt by sound that cut out mid-note.

The audience's reaction to all this was a chorus of muffled, dissatisfied murmurs, and the occasional yell of "fix the mics!"  God only knows what was going on backstage. I appreciate that doing a one night show in a big theatre is going to be a rushed job, YWSOBIYDHAJ having just a couple of hours to set up between The Scottsboro Boys. Even so, at £20 a ticket audiences have a right to expect certain technical and acoustic standards, especially in a prominent West End theatre.

Even given all that I can't blame the performers, all of whom looked so happy and excited to perform that I felt a pang of sympathy when their efforts were hamstrung by the mics. I've seen several of them in other shows before this, so I know full well how talented they are. Daniel Donskoy (also directing) is always great fun to watch,  always moving with sinuous grace and maximising every atom of entertainment in his songs. I also enjoyed Nikko Benson's I could be Jewish for you, which brimmed over with personality and sweet earnestness.

By far my favourite was Natasha Karp's machine-gun perfect Not Getting Married Today from Sondheim's Company.  Astonishingly fast-paced and tongue twisting, the song neatly avoided the 'stand dead still, wail and wave your arms about' performance style that dominated the night in favour of manic wordplay and ultra-frazzled body language. For that brief moment I was genuinely enjoying myself, but the songs soon collapsed back into overcooked blandity.

All these prpblemsaside, I can't deny that the audience appeared to be largely enjoying themselves. I strongly suspect this is because those here were friends and family of those on stage - happy to see them singing in the West End regardless of the actual quality of the performances. But despite the obvious talent on stage this was painfully amateurish stuff.

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