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The Theatreguide.London Review

What's It All About? / Close To You
Menier Chocolate Factory  Summer 2015; Criterion Theatre (under new title) Autumn-Winter 2015

Even in California in the 1960s and 1970s (and yes, Gentle Reader, I was there), the infectiously bouncy pop melodies of Burt Bacharach were a guilty pleasure, disdained as too middle-of-the-road in public, but irresistibly sung along with in shower and car. And thus they have remained for almost half a century. 

So you take melodies and arrangements that have been earworms for several generations, and re-arrange them so they sound different, thereby asking the musical question 'Why?' 

To which, of course, the answer is 'Why not?' The songs (lyrics generally by Hal David) are strong enough to survive some messing about, and some might actually be refreshed by being heard in new ways. 

This program of about 30 Bacharach standards re-conceived and re-arranged by Kyle Riabko and David Lane Seltzer features seven personable performers, accompanying themselves on various instruments. 

A lot of the new arrangements aren't any more radical than you might expect from any cabaret performer or cover version, with a bit of new phrasing or unexpected instrumental backing here or there. 

Doing Always Something There To Remind Me at half-speed, adding a touch of gospel flavouring to What The World Needs Now, or giving I Say A Little Prayer a bluesy sound does them no harm and actually brings out qualities implicit in the originals. 

The adaptors only go very wrong a couple of times, as when repeated snatches of Alfie never get past the first four words so that it's a relief when the whole song (sung rather straight) finally appears as the show's dramatic climax, or when an almost comically over-the-top introduction builds to a ponderously overblown Message To Michael. 

On the other hand, an equally radical elaboration turning The Way To San Jose into a stadium-rock sized high decibel power anthem is actually fun. 

Kyle Riabko casts himself as the lead singer, taking the bulk of the solos and leaving the others with only one or two moments in the spotlight. 

Anastacia McCleskey scores with an intensely dramatic torchsong version of Don't Make Me Over, only to be matched a moment later by Stephanie McKeon's effectively understated Walk On By. 

No choreographer is named, so director Steven Hoggett is to be credited for the fluid musical staging that takes as its starting point the synchronised dancing-in-place of Motown groups and cleverly and inventively moves into bright and witty stage choreography. 

While most of it is bouncy and high energy, a particularly lovely moment has McKeon slide herself between Riabko and his guitar for a quietly romantic waltz. 

I doubt very, very much that any of these new arrangements will displace the originals in your aural memory. But the 90-minute show is as pleasant a way to spend a summer evening as you could ask for.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - What's It All About? - Menier Chocolate Factory 2015

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