“Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet”
A week bookended by cabaret turns from Debbie Kurup can be no bad thing indeed and whilst we covered the catalogue of Kander + Ebb earlier in the week, it’s now the turn of Cy Coleman to get the tribute treatment with Rhythm of Life, the world premiere of a revue which has the added bonus of 5 never-performed-in-London-before songs from the Cy Coleman archive. Joining Kurup was Marti Webb, John Barr and Cedric Neal with musical director Michael Webborn leading them from his piano.
And when focused on the music, this is some enchanted evening indeed (to borrow a phrase). Coleman’s compositions include such classics as Sweet Charity, On The Twentieth Century and City of Angels (recently seen at the Donmar Warehouse), I can’t honestly include Barnum in that number… Lesser known works also shine in this format, the best songs cherry-picked from shows like The Life and Seesaw, demonstrating the wide range of collaborators with whom he worked across his career.
And whether a much-welcomed Marti Webb driving through ‘Nobody Does It Like Me’, Kurup’s dryly comic romp through ‘The Oldest Profession’, Barr ingeniously flipping the script on ‘Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like’ or Neal’s impassioned ‘Use What You Got’, even the not-so-familiar songs sounded great here, more than matching the expected brilliance of Kurup nailing ‘Big Spender’ or Neal – a surprise package for those who didn’t see the Open Air’s Porgy & Bess – shining on ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’.
The downside came with the use of recorded commentary to fill in the gaps, erring towards the sycophantic in terms of the commentary offered and to the awkward in leaving the performers idling on the stage. A good revue needs its thematic links entertainingly but efficiently put across and so if this show is to go on and have further life, as surely it will, it could usefully look at this. Otherwise, it is an illuminating and fun show.