Mark Ludmon reviews the online musical revue, Falling Stars, featuring Peter Polycarpou and Sally Ann Triplett at London’s Union Theatre
Union Theatre/Stream Theatre
StreamTheatre Website – Until 29th Nov
Not long after World War I and the devastating “Spanish Flu” pandemic, Charlie Chaplin wrote a hit tune that is now largely forgotten but provides an upbeat message still relevant in 2020. “The while you sing a song, your troubles fade away,” it goes, urging us to “just smile and swing along”. It is one of the songs featured in Peter Polycarpou’s new musical revue, Falling Stars, which mines the vast American and British (and sometimes French) songbook of the 1920s and 1930s. Originally due to be staged at London’s Union Theatre in November, it has been filmed for streaming online to help us through the dark days of lockdown.
Chaplin is now mostly remembered as an actor and film-maker but Falling Stars draws heavily on the many popular melodies he wrote, including the better-known “Smile”, whose lyrics (by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons) urge us to “smile through your fear and sorrow”. There are other familiar songs that have endured across the decades but, for the most part, Polycarpou is rescuing melodies that are barely remembered today. On a set designed by Jean Grey, the show is built on the idea of Polycarpou finding a dusty book of music in an antique shop, leading to him to recall a roster of composers and lyricists and their careers. James V Monaco, Lester Santly, Frederic Weatherly and many more are remembered alongside the likes of better-known songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Lew Brown and Arthur Freed.
He has paired up (at a distance of “one metre plus”) with musical theatre star Sally Ann Triplett, performing extracts and full-length pieces. She brings out the heart-breaking poignancy of numbers such as “Sing a Song”, Chaplin’s “Now That It’s Ended” and Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” but also injects plenty of wit and humour, especially when dueting with Polycarpou in Carl Schraubstader and Lew Brown’s cheeky “Last Night on the Back Porch (I Loved Him Best of All)” and novelty favourite, “Yes, We Have No Bananas”. One highlight is a heartfelt number by Monaco and Freed, “You Know You Belong To Somebody Else, So Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone”, beautifully sung by Triplett in English but with Polycarpou providing the very different French lyrics, “Je t’aime à travers les ages”. While many of the songs reflect the “joie de vivre” of the 1920s, Polycarpou also presents the sentimental wartime favourite, “Roses of Picardy” – a reminder that the spectre of the Great War continued to hang over Europe and the USA for many years.
Directed and staged by Michael Strassen with musical direction by Robert Emery, Falling Stars offers moments of joy as well as nuggets of musical history but is cut through with a poignant sadness that concludes on a sombre note. Although the hour-long show is entertaining and well-made, it feels a little unfinished, but Polycarpou explains that rehearsals were cut short by lockdown and they were determined the filmed version would be available for the dates it was due to be staged live. The good news is there will be more, with Polycarpou and Triplett due to perform in front of an actual audience at the Union Theatre on 8 and 9 January 2021.