Last Updated on 21st August 2015
By his own admission Cy Coleman is never mentioned in the same breath as big some of the doyens of musical theatre, like Sondheim and Lloyd Webber. Even his most popular songs “Big Spender” and “Rhythm of Life” have taken on a life of their own and are rarely linked back to their musical roots.
So was Coleman unappreciated in his time? Luckily for us, the St James’ Theatre is hosting a revue of Cy Coleman’s greatest hits so we can make up our own mind. Described as the ‘master of the catchy show tune’, the show features songs from shows like Sweet Charity, Little Me and City Of Angels, as well as a handful of lesser known tunes which had never been performed in London before.
A cast of four helped to bring the Tony winning Coleman’s creations to life, with a mix of ensemble numbers (like the barnstorming The Rhythm of Life which ended the show) and some solo performances and sets. West End veteran Marti Webb headed up the cast and although she seemed a bit off colour during the first half hour clawed it back with a bubbly and belting performance of Nobody Does it Like Me from Seesaw. Webb was clearly marked out as being top billing, getting her own introduction onto the stage and being treated with reverence by the crowd.
However, she was eclipsed by Cedric Neal, a relative newcomer who is almost worth the admission price alone. Neal has a dream of a voice, velvety and smooth, whilst capable of performing unbelievable vocal gymnastics. It was an energetic performance from Neal and the audience loved it; when it came to the final bows, he received a fantastic reception from the audience. His two solos in the second half; The Best Is Yet to Come and Use What You Got (The Life) were amongst the best moments of the evening – Neal is certainly one to watch.
Debbie Kurup was highly soulful, extracting every inch of sizzling sultriness out of her solo rendition of Big Spender. She also mined the comic potential from The Oldest Profession from Coleman’s The Life, a cri de couer from a bored and weary prostitute. John Barr was as reliable as his bulging resume suggests, coming into his own during an amusing performance of Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like from Will Rogers Follies.
Coleman has clearly notched up some big hits and the tunes from Sweet Charity still stand out as his strongest work. There were however a few duds in amongst them, such as The Colours of My Life from Barnum, a truly pedestrian number that should have been nowhere near last night’s songlist. Another song, Where Am I Going?, was actually cut from the soundtrack of Sweet Charity and it didn’t make much of a case for inclusion last night.
Whist the links between songs are crucial in a revue, the use of a pre-recorded voiceover sucked the energy out of the room. The cast had to sit there like ventriloquist’s dummies whilst a voice from above gave us a fairly sycophantic narration. We didn’t really learn much about Coleman or how his career developed; some sharper links could have added a bit of thematic clarity to the evening.
Coleman worked in an era where Broadway was consistently part of the Top 10. Not every number presented as part of Rhythm Of Life deserved placement in the show, but audiences were left with no doubt that he was clearly a very talented composer with an ability to craft some surefire hits. A talented and versatile cast means that even a big spender would not come away disappointed.