CD of the moment: Act One

I have [mumblemumble]hundred theatre-related CDs in my collection, and some of them inevitably get listened to a lot more than others.  I was recently asked to write a CD review (which was not used), so I thought I’d tweak it a little and share it here, potentially with the aim of posting a review of a recording at the beginning of each month.

Act One CD Cover

Act One CD Cover

Act One: Songs from the Musicals of Alexander S. Bermange

Dress Circle 070 501-8 – RRP: £14.99
Alexander S. Bermange’s name may not be familiar to the majority of theatre fans, but the people who interpret his songs on this recording almost certainly are. The 26 singers include leading men such as Jon Lee, Earl Carpenter and Daniel Boys, while the distaff side is equally strong, featuring Sally Ann Triplett, Joanna Ampil, Lara Pulver and Summer Strallen among others. As Sir Tim Rice says in his brief liner notes, this surely speaks volumes about the quality of the material they are interpreting, and they all give their songs all they’ve got. Mr Bermange has mostly been successful in continental Europe, which has seen productions of his various musicals based on tales from the likes of the Brothers Grimm. Several selections from these shows are included here along with others representing a total of ten musicals and one pantomime. The numbers themselves cover power ballads, love songs and comedy moments, showing great versatility from the composer-lyricist, who plays piano on all bar one of the tracks.

Each track is rewarding listening, but some stand out immediately. The disc opens with ‘Walking On the Sun’, which is reminiscent of  ‘This is the Moment’ in some ways, though the lyrics of the verses are somewhat puzzling – perhaps they make more sense in the context of the show it comes from. Three songs from Odette, an adaptation of Swan Lake, are particularly enjoyable. Each of the main characters familiar from the ballet is represented in these selections, and all of them use fairy tale metaphors, an interesting touch which provokes questions about the rest of the show, suggesting an unusual level of awareness on the part of the characters – do they know they’re part of a story, I wonder? Best of these is ‘My Prince’, sung by Lara Pulver (now appearing as Isabella in the BBC’s Robin Hood), a comic number in which Odile reveals the many ways in which she has tried to attract a Prince Charming using every trick in the fairy tale book. The sadder side of love is explored by Janie Dee in ‘Where’s the Love?’ from Close Encounters and by Jenna Lee-James and Dean Collison in ‘Anyone But You’ from Thirteen Days. Both tracks pull at the heart strings, exploring two complex relationships, ill-advised in different ways.

For me, though, it is two of the upbeat tracks which prove to be the cream of the already very good crop on the CD, both of them written for a pantomime version of Aladdin at the Pleasance Theatre. While they may not be deep or complex (not concepts you usually associate with panto), ‘I Want to Reach the Stars’ (sung by Jon Lee) and ‘Higher Than a Shooting Star’ (Mark Evans and Susan McFadden) are highly engaging, great examples of the ‘I want’ and ‘I love you’ genres, essential inclusions in any theatre score, and leave the listener with a huge smile. This CD proves that Stiles and Drewe are not the only hope for the future of British musical theatre, and makes you long to hear more from Mr Bermange – here’s hoping for an Act Two!

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