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The Theatreguide.London Review

Showtune
Union Theatre   Summer 2019

This short (90 minutes including interval) salute to Broadway songwriter Jerry Herman is pleasant. Ten pleasant performers sing pleasantly, dance pleasantly and smile pleasantly.

If in the process they homogenise all the songs, losing much of their individual strengths and characters and reducing the evening to a string of pretty melodies – well, it's still pleasant.

If Jerry Herman had written only the music and lyrics to Hello Dolly his fame would be assured. Add in Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, Mack And Mabel and the lesser-known Milk And Honey, Dear World and The Grand Tour and his place in the Broadway pantheon is unquestionable.

What makes Herman special is his conventionality. While Sondheim was stretching the boundaries of the musical and Lloyd Webber was taking it to new emotional depths, Herman worked completely within the formulas that had served the genre for decades.

Each of his scores ticks off the standard boxes – a big opening number, some love duets, come comic songs, some big production numbers, and so on – the significant factor being that all are among the best of their kind.

The song list here is drawn almost entirely from the big hit shows. We could debate inclusions and omissions, but any selection has to be – well, selective.

The one thing worth noting is that The Big One, the song that absolutely had to be included in any collection of Herman, barely gets the briefest of samplings, and its omission leaves a gaping hole.

The order of songs is almost random, with only occasional hints at thematic structure, as when a love song from one show is answered by one from another, or when two songs about parades are mashed together.

Stripped of their context and performed too placidly, too many of the songs lose their dramatic power. There is only the slightest hint of the defiance of I Am What I Am, the poignancy of I Won't Send Roses, the wonder of It Only Takes A Moment and the essences of others.

The songs are assigned democratically, with everyone in the cast given a fair share, with the result that no one gets to stand out or make much of an individual impression.

Everyone in the cast sometimes, and some in the cast always have trouble projecting their voices over a single piano.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Showtune - Union Theatre 2019