Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Anyone running into middle age or at least growing up in the Sixties will have something of Burt Bacharach in their DNA. The Look of Love, Reach Out For Me, I Say a Little Prayer, Anyone Who Had a Heart…the list is endless of the songs which, with lyricist Hal David, brought Bacharach six Grammys, three Oscars and a staggering 73 US and 52 UK Top 40 hits. No doubt you’ll have your own haunting favourite, even if you don’t admit to it! But they were songs I certainly grew up to, seeming to uncannily chart the twists and turns of a 20-something’s romantic heart!
Of course, the fact some songs were written for, or covered by our very own legends such as Cilla Black and the irreplaceable Dusty Springfield may have something to do with why the sound of Bacharach-David lingers on in the sub-conscious on this side of the Atlantic quite as much as it does over the pond…
Whatever the reason, this clever chamber tribute to the Bacharach songbook brings it all back, if in unexpected form.
Arranged and conceived by American singer/composer/actor Kyle Riabko with David Lane Seltzer and originally staged at New York Theatre Workshop where it became the venue’s longest running show, Riabko’s arrangements combine classic and experimental tempos which eschew easy nostalgia and are sometimes, I have to admit it, challenging enough to make you reassess and rethink.
Riabko favours the acoustic guitar and it is that and his own light, tenor voice which tend to take precedence, mostly to the songs’ advantage although occasionally, this listener longed for darker or smokier textures – something you certainly get when Anastacia McCleskey breaks into song with all the soul vibrancy you’d associate with someone originating from Nashville! You have to remind yourself that many of Bacharach’s classics were written for Dionne Warwick and it is the richness of that sound that lingers still in the memory and takes some replacing.
But if some notes don’t quite hit it for this listener, there is still something here for everyone in a show whose hallmark is intimacy as wonderfully created by designers Christine Jones and Brett J Banakis as if in a club-cabaret with banks of comfy sofas and subdued lampshades.
Sit back and enjoy, then as this septet of extraordinarily talented young musician/singer performers take you on a sad, wistful – and with the occasional storming, up-tempo, electric guitar Jimi Hendrix-like riff – journey into love’s many distillations, directed with flair and zest by Steven Hoggett (co-founder of the physical theatre company Frantic Assembly).
Riabko himself closes the show, sitting aloft a stack of sofas and backing instruments and singing a sweet, unadulterated version of the title song, written for the film, What’s It All About, Alfie? What indeed!
A musical entertainment of high quality, gold dusted with memories…
First published in Londongrip, July 2015