“Every moment’s one to treasure”
Composers who put together albums of their songs, especially if they are up and coming talent who haven’t necessarily had a breakthrough show yet, are often in something of a bind. Do you go for as diverse a selection of your material as you can find or do you concentrate on showcasing your strengths – both approaches have their merits and their disadvantages and I don’t personally think there is any easy, or right answer. Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange is probably closer to the latter option and sure enough, it has its strengths and its weaknesses.
Bermange has quite a list of credits to his name but has arguably yet to really mark his mark on the London scene. I only really became aware of him recently when his show Thirteen Days had a small run as part of this year’s Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. As a musical treatment of the Cuban missile crisis, it was a work of mixed qualities, not always entirely successful but one which equally showed intriguing promise, not least in the firmly old-school manner of rousing song-writing. And that is what comes across most clearly in this collection, which bypasses the post-Sondheim school to cleave closer to the likes of Schwartz and balladeer. Oh, and it features a simply sensational cast of sheer quality.
Bermange loves a stirring piano-driven ballad and there are several cracking examples of the form on this CD. He’s particularly good at writing for more than one voice, so trios like Shona Lindsay, Dianne Pilkington and Ramin Karimloo’s passionate ‘I Only Wish For You’ (one of the best songs on here) and Ricardo Afonso, Sabrina Aloueche and Cassandra Compton’s intriguing ‘Trial of the Heart’ (the female harmonies at 1:34 are some of my favourite ever) are gorgeously layered, swirling songs of love, loss and drama. Duets like the delicately understated ‘Enchanted’ with Ben James-Ellis and Alexia Khadime on great form, and Mark Evans and Susan McFadden’s sweetly optimistic ‘Higher Than a Shooting Star’ are also lovely.
The two songs from Thirteen Days sound great here: ‘Anyone But You’, the theme of which recurs throughout the show, is an irresistibly catchy duet, Jenna Lee-James and Dean Collinson making regret sound exquisite, and Oliver Tompsett’s driving ‘More Than A Memory’ seems destined to be a cabaret staple for young male singers. The marvellous Janie Dee lends immense class to ‘Where’s the Love?’, Sally Ann Triplett strides confidently through ‘Can’t Get Enough’ and Linzi Hateley’s aching rendition of ‘If This Could Be Forever’ is just elegant perfection.
But, there’s something about the homogeneity of the material here that makes it run together a little too much. There’s a clear sense of who Bermange is as a composer but less so of the shows themselves, non-specific feels like too harsh a comment to make but stripped of their context, several of these songs feel like they could be interchangeable pop standards where perhaps a little more diversity in the track-listing might have been better placed.
Lara Pulver’s ‘My Prince’ is a great example of this, a witty character-driven song that shows another string to the bow extremely well, but it is very much the exception to the rule. Far be it from me to end this review on a bit of a downer though, make no mistake that I love this album. I’m a great fan of new musical theatre writing to be sure, but I was raised on Disney theme tunes, Lloyd-Webber and Les Mis and this collection touches on all three of those reference points to create something that immediately feels warmly familiar and wonderful.