“Musical theatre’s my passion, my art”
In the Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre, there is often a Sunday night treat to be found and this week saw the launch of Unwritten Songs, the debut album by Michael Bruce featuring a whole host of West End stars, many of whom were in attendance to perform the songs they sing on the album, including Julie Atherton, Alexia Khadime, Anna-Jane Casey and Mark Evans and some other special guests too, including Caroline Sheen. Bruce is a composer who has had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing, so it is safe to say this is a man who is going places.
His songwriting covers many bases, but he is particularly strong at the comedic songs and his repertoire is already full of choice gifts for the more daring cabaret performer: ‘Portrait of a Princess’ (formerly titled ‘In A Disney Way’) was written especially for Julie Atherton and plays perfectly to her inimitable strength at witty story-songs, if for some crazy reason you only buy one song off this album, this would be the one. But there’s also the faux-operatic ‘Continental’ delivered with a great wry humour by Emily Tierney and the newly written ‘The Musical Theatre Song’ which borrows the rapid-fire structure of Sondheim’s ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’ as a musical theatre fan breathlessly lists all the shows she loves, delivered almost without fault by Anna-Jane Casey. Bruce clearly enjoys challenging his singers and when they are of this calibre, then why the hell not.
Expansive balladry was covered with songs like the gorgeous ‘Children’, performed here by Zoe Rainey, and Ashleigh Gray’s stirring ‘My Kind of World’, both really benefitting from the presence of a string quartet. Having a band onstage too allowed things to rock out (a little), with Ross Hunter’s ‘Don’t Want To Leave You Now’ and a stripped down acoustic version of Julie Atherton’s ‘Blind’ from her second album No Space for Air, really showing his versatility as a songwriter, able to switch between moods effortlessly yet providing a fresh, contemporary feel to all of his work.
It was also nice to see the supportive mentality of Speckulation’s approach to new musical theatre continuing through Bruce himself as he provided a showcase opportunity for 3 final year students, one each from Sam Edwards from ArtsEd, Emily Scott-Dobie from Mountview and Amelia Adams-Pearce from the Royal Academy of Music, to join this illustrious company and sing one of his songs. All three acquitted themselves well, Scott-Dobie delivered her comedy number well, Edwards had a beautiful tone to his voice and Adams-Pearce gave a stunning rendition of ‘It’s Not Gonna Rain’: whatever the future holds for them, they will surely remember this opportunity given to them and they can hold their heads high.
We were finally treated to what was teased as a moment of musical theatre history, although more accurately a moment of Speckulation history with a full 5 and a half minute promo video for Portrait of a Princess, featuring Julie Atherton skipping through locations like Ridley Road Market and Clissold Park with an all-star supporting cast around her. It takes what is already a funny song and just lifts it up to another level with some hilarious cameos from the likes of Sheridan Smith, Tom Parsons, some adorable kids and if that’s not enough, there’s the sight of Steven Webb with a condom on his face and Russell Tovey cruising a buff Jon Lee in the park, what more could you want! You can see the video below or at http://www.portraitofaprincess.com/ now and it is well worth a watch – there are also links there to buy the album in different formats.