“I’ll gather up my past, and make some sense at last”
Unless you’ve caught him in tours of The Producers or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or in occasional TV performances, you might not know that comedian Jason Manford can sing. He’s even tackled Sondheim, stepping into the role of Pirelli in the Staunton/Ball Sweeney Todd for a while back in 2011, and so it is little surprise that his debut album A Different Stage should turn out be one of showtunes and standards.
Manford’s voice emerges as a solid and mannered instrument and clear as a bell, his singing veers towards the precise. This is most effective on the likes of Chitty’s ‘Hushabye Mountain’, sung sweetly with former co-star Rosanna Bates and And much of the material tends towards the booming inspirational anthems beloved of his friend Alfie Boe – ‘This Is My Life’, ‘This Is The Moment’, ‘The Impossible Dream’, all effective if a little similar.
When the song choice gets a little more interesting, it does feel a little over-ambitious though. Manford has yet to develop much colour into his tone and so when called to express a quieter kind of emotion, it rarely scores. Once’s ‘Falling Slowly’ (sung with the excellent Kate Rusby) lacks any real erotic charge and ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard, a lyric that begs for subtlety gets nothing but a slightly strange vibrato and a misguided kick up the octave at one point.
Manford is clearly more at ease in the traditional model of musical theatre and so he feels most comfortable on tracks like ‘On The Street Where You Live’ (from My Fair Lady) and ‘I Have Dreamed’ (from The King And I). And by the time he moves to Perry Como standards like ‘It’s Impossible’, you get a real sense of where his real passion lies, such is the fit with the material. So something of a mixed bag for me, but certainly a debut album to look out for if you’re a fan.