That's Jewish Entertainment!
Upstairs At The Gatehouse
9th February 2017
The wonder of Aria Entertainments' revues is their simplicity and coherence: two qualities easy to strive for, but easy to miss in this deceptively simple form. Yet, time and again, Katy Lipson's outfit knows exactly how to put together the right team to realise the perfect balance between content and expression that is the hallmark of this exacting genre. Never repeating themselves, each new venture offering a novel solution to the original problems thrown up by the latest departure, her company is now famous for its capacity to make wonderful entertainments out of sometimes the most improbable material.
The latest offering to arrive before the public on this conveyor belt of success is a delicious four-hander written by Chris Burgess, telling the tale of the late 19th century migration of millions of Eastern European and Russian Jews to the USA, where (largely) their development of mass forms of communication – the vaudeville circuits, Broadway, Hollywood, radio and television – enabled the music and comedy of the shtetl to become the entertainment of the world. It is a well-argued script, which, if it does not take us into places we have not visited before, speaks honestly and plainly and is a marvel of economy and efficiency.
In the capable hands of Matthew Barrow, Joanna Lee, David McKechnie and Emma Odell, we are whisked along this trajectory, to the tunes of three dozen songs that range far and wide through time and geography, encompassing the tumultuous events that transformed the fortunes of a marginalised people and the culture of the entire globe. Barrow brings a classical elegance to the show. Lee is very much in the tradition of much-loved London artists like Georgia Brown. McKechnie has the smart moves and savoir-faire of the West End. And Odell brings a fresh, youthful glamour. They are an utter delight together. Charlie Ingles and Alex Bellamy are the alternating MDs who keep a smart quartet of musicians bouncing and spinning through Andy Collyer's sublime arrangements of everything from hits from the Yiddish theatre to Streisand's ‘A Piece of Sky'.
The seamless transitions between numbers are made even more beautiful through the perfectly judged interventions of director Kate Golledge and choreographer Adam Scown, all lit with vivid sympathy by Ben M Rogers, and with unobtrusive sound support by Jack Laing. Generally, the team focus attention on the intimacy of each moment, although they allow some – like the dramatic, unforgettable sequence evoking the music that sprang out of the holocaust – to bloom with magnificently impressive effect.
So, although people keep saying that revue is dead and belongs in the past, here again, is another wonderful example of a form that is very much alive and – as we watch events continue to develop, not least in the USA – it has all of its relevance still very much intact.
Until 11 March 2017