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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Genius of Ray Charles
Haymarket Theatre Summer 2005

This compilation show ignores the current mode of fitting an established songbook into a new plot and reverts to the model of such shows as Ain't Misbehavin' and Smoky Joe's Café, a straight-forward concert by a handful of singers performing in various combinations. It got its start in a Nevada casino showroom and is produced here by a company that packages touring  'Salute to' (Sinatra, ABBA, Broadway, etc.) shows.

It is, in short, theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre. As I've written many times, I have no objection to the genre - that's a legitimate audience with legitimate tastes, and shows like We Will Rock You and Mary Poppins that deliver value-for-money to that audience (and maybe even develop a taste for other shows) are to be applauded.

But that audience deserves better than this.

What you get is a group of anonymous singers (The programme lists nine, but the six onstage on any night aren't identified until the curtain calls), along with an onstage band and some backing dancers, doing about 30 songs recorded at one time or another by Ray Charles.

The mix is a broad one, including many songs not particularly associated with Charles, such as Fever and Eleanor Rigby, alongside more likely selections like Georgia and I Can't Stop Loving You.

The singers are all professionals, so their performances are at worst adequate. But there is very little sense of Ray Charles to the evening.

No real attempt is made to duplicate the Charles sound, and the arrangements and performances are just different enough to frustrate those hoping for a recreation, and not interesting enough to stand as reinterpretations.  The choreography is adequate without ever being exciting, and the band only really starts to rock in the two-or-three-minute exit music they play after the last curtain calls.

The show oozes with implicit contempt for its audience.  The minimal 'And then he recorded' continuity is perfunctory. The singers flirt with the audience in the artificial 'How ya doin' way that has no reality behind it. Every single number ends with the same applause-cuing device of boosting the volume and raising the lights. And some artificial excitement is generated for the closing numbers (Hit the Road Jack, What'd I say, etc) only through the Pavlovian device of raising the volume to jet-engine decibels.

So what you get is an evening of random songs, loosely tied together by their connection to Ray Charles, done in not-the-Ray-Charles style.

If that is your idea of a fun evening out - well, here it is. But you deserve better.

 Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Genius of Ray Charles - Haymarket 2005