UPCOMING: Cases at The Phoenix Artists Club

Cases by Dominic Powell
Photo: Lisa Hickson

Phoenix Artist Club
Sunday 12th February 2017

A new work by the breathtakingly talented Dominic Powell (who is barely into his third decade) is always a cause for celebration, and there was plenty of that in the below-stairs cabaret beside the Phoenix Theatre a few weekends ago, when he unveiled his latest festival of song. On hand to deliver this cycle of musical moments from his newest show were the terrific voices of Bobbie Little, Christina Matavu, Nicholas McLean, Jordan Shaw and ‘narrator’ Brandon Lee Henry. The band was made up of Powell on keyboard, one Powell senior on guitar, and another on kahoon. Typically for Dominic, it was a neat, well thought-out and very effective presentation.

Cultivating a very commercial ‘American’ sound, the opening number – the title song – seemed to have emerged via any number of drama school productions of ‘Rent’. But it was more artful, something more like ‘Murder Ballad’, with smooth harmonies and exquisitely well-considered colours in the accompaniment (he writes all his own arrangements, of course!). The next number, ‘Airs and Graces’ introduced the first of many blasts of powerful black female voices. And then we launched into a sequence of numbers – ‘Charged’, ‘Possession’, ‘Cost of Living’ – that propelled us through the slightly abstruse story of in-fighting around the intellectual property of a West End costumier. The plot, in fact, sounds as if it might easily be dispensed with, and replaced by something much meatier, to make it more of an appropriate match for the substantial and gorgeous songs. Lyrically, Powell’s is a powerful voice, and his book should really be on the same level. At the moment, the story just doesn’t have the same kind of credibility and comes across as escapist and silly. Somehow, I think that situation is going to change.

Cases by Dominic Powell
Photo: Chris Lincoln

The sweet ballad we had just heard impressed us with the elegant simplicity of its vocal line, easeful harmonies, and its extraordinary ability to speak directly to the heart. And with it Dominic demonstrated his superb skill as a subtle and sensitive accompanist, to boot. Equally, he showed himself the master of snappy vocal arrangements, with brilliantly clever groupings (over which he sweats long, long hours, I’ll have you know); in particular, he knows just how to get the most out of his combinations, whether it is in a fine duet for tenor and soprano, or making the most of his solo mezzo-soprano in the beautiful piece of story-telling that is ‘Waterfalls’.

Nevertheless, these musical glories were continuously overshadowed by the rather daft script. One can only hope that with the benefit of some useful retrospection, he can see just how good the songs are and that the script has to undergo the same careful, thoughtful labour as the score. Another batch of terrific numbers followed, culminating in the killer, ‘You Don’t Know Me’, a strongly direct emotional statement with a thrilling carillon accompaniment, simply yelling out for a much, much better story to tell. Finally, we moved in on a great come-back number, ‘Stand’, and then the evening rounded off with a reprise of the opening tune.

Dominic Powell – in a very short space of time – has come on by leaps and bounds since I last saw him at the Theatre Cafe (with a programme of only ballads). Somehow I think that when I next have the honour and privilege of enjoying his marvellous compositions, I – and everyone else – will be noticing even more dramatic progress. Watch out for it!

This was a concert performance of songs from Dominic Powell’s new show, ‘Cases’, and was introduced as a ‘workshop’. In keeping with usual practice, we will not be allocating stars for it.

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