“What matters are the things you leave behind
And the echoes love can leave inside your mind
And the lights that last from random acts of kindness
Kind of simple, kind of not”
First Things Last celebrated the release of American musical theatre writer Lance Horne’s debut album at the Garrick Theatre, following two shows in New York earlier this month. The album features a host of highly talented stars from the West End and Broadway, so the concerts have had different line-ups reflecting people’s availability but this concert featured a line-up that read like a who’s who of the cream of British musical theatre and then some. The show was produced by those champions of new musical theatre Speckulation and lived up to expectations as a most stunning showcase for some seriously talented stars and a most engaging writer.
Picking a favourite moment from the event is a bit like my own version of Sophie’s Choice, but I was probably most looking forward to Meow Meow’s performance and she did not fail to deliver. Her song ‘January’, a regretful tale of a lost love, is like a 1960s black and white French film brought fully to life, her silkily sultry vocals perfectly matching the Jacques Brel feel of the song and I now could not be more excited for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg if I tried, it is going to be immense!
A trio of stripped-back but devastatingly effective ballads which were all nigh-on perfect. Hannah Waddingham’s spine-tingling and beautifully heartfelt ‘Last Day On Earth’, composed during a particularly dicey flight, brought the house down and tears to the eyes of many; Oliver Tompsett’s take on the utterly beautiful ‘Strange Bird’, of a couple who have now parted reflecting back on their relationship, was nicely unaffected and most charming; and Ashleigh Gray’s ‘Orpheus’ was simply stunning, another uncluttered vocal that simply enhanced the huge emotional impact of the song. The latter two were all the more impressive for being songs learned specially for this evening, only Waddingham is actually featured on the CD.
Alan Cumming, who has a well-established creative relationship with Horne, sang three songs including ‘American’, an acerbic take on patriotism which is also the opening track to the CD and ‘Next To You’, a hilarious confessional of a man confessing his night-time exploits to his tolerant lover; Cassidy Janson got to slip back a little into Lucy the Slut mode with a strong performance of the languid jazzy ‘Hurry Up and Take Your Time’, Simon Burke’s ‘Man in the Starched White Shirt’ was a nice character study of a repressed gay man, Paul Spicer’s hopeful ‘6 Hours’ was lovely and Julie Atherton brought her immense interpretative talents to ‘Anywhere But Here’ and ‘Every Moment’, the latter ably assisted by some cracking back-up vocals from Tori Allen-Martin.
All told, there really were hardly any weak links in the evening: Emma Williams shone with transatlantic charm and crystal clear vocals on ‘Leap’, Norm Lewis’ poem was beautiful, Lucy May Barker was effervescent in a cheeky high school based number, even the somewhat curious choice to replace Ricki Lake on the witty song ‘Haircut’ with Graham Norton kind of worked, bringing an anarchic fun ending to the first half, if not the strongest of vocal performances as he admitted himself. And the little skits and CD marketing tools that peppered the show were amusing and help to create the relaxed atmosphere that was ideally suited to this Sunday evening. The intensity of much of the material was also lightened by Horne singing a few of his more light-hearted numbers, including an ode to asparagus.
As Hannah Waddingham mentioned in the show, Horne has an amazing lyrical gift that is immensely relatable: the broken hearts, the wistful reminisces, the hopes of love to come are all recognisable from our own lives but expressed with such poetic beauty and set to his inspired music, they are elevated to something really rather special. And the songs are constructed with a real precision (just listen to the internal rhymes towards the end of ‘Leap’) that belies their apparent simplicity, there is no doubting that Lance Horne is extremely talented and the forthcoming musicals, from which many of these songs were taken, will surely be hotly anticipated.
In the meantime, you should invest in the CD which is available in shops like Dress Circle or download it from iTunes, it is extremely good and as quite a rarity in my shuffle-obsessed world, it really is an album that bears listening to from start to finish. It won’t be quite the same as this truly amazing evening which really demonstrated the depth of musical theatre talent we are blessed with, but First Things Last remains a tremendous showcase for a range of West End and Broadway stars and a truly gifted songwriter.