It’s always a joy when a production bounds from a creative wellspring of inventiveness and originality and is then crowned with musical performances of great technical merit and imaginative interpretation. This is not one such evening.

The formula is dispiritingly familiar: strip the songs from the musicals for which they were written and line up a random selection of vocalists to render them. Doesn’t need scenery, you can get away with a five-piece band, and thanks to the critics putting an early pillow over the face ofGreat Expectations (“it gave me the Pip”, Quentin Letts, Daily Mail), the Vaudeville Theatre is keen to negotiate on the rent until The Ladykillers rolls back into town for the school holidays with its new TV-sitcom-star cast.

“Songs From The Shows” productions are routinely starved of budget and bereft of originality, but it’s unusual to find one cluttering up a West End house for a full month. This particular epic has been doing the provincial rounds for a year, and the lineup varies, but at first night centred on Lee Mead, the genial housewife-popular Kevin-Keegan-moptop from TV’s Any Dream Will Do.

In terms of likely-to-have-his-conservatory-featured-in-Hello celebrity, Mead is closely followed by Matt Willis, a former member of former boyband Busted who my godson tells me disbanded in 2005, so he’s had a while to prepare for this. The stronger voices belong to the less well-known: David Thaxton has been Raoul in Phantom and Enjolras in Les Miserables but not become a “name”, and Glenn Carter’s programme credits of Jersey Boys, Cats and and “the original cast of Grease” mean he’s been decorating London stages since 1974, but you’d still be hard-pressed to pick him out of a police lineup.

More interesting than his singing is the fact Carter is President of the British chapter of theRaëlian Movement, a UFO-based religion whose meditation regime includes erotic massage and believes humans were created by 4-foot-tall aliens. He must have loved working with Elaine Paige in Chess.

The material was shunted around a bit to accommodate Mead’s laryngitis, but it hardly mattered since the procession of solos and hit-and-miss mashups from both classic musicals and the Lloyd Webber back catalogue was as random as the unpainted tiers of planking, plywood and packing crates which comprise the set.

If they’d stuck to musicals, it might have been even more predictable, but also more within their range. A creditable quartet rendition of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” was a genuine highlight and Mead nailed Coldplay’s “Fix You”, although allowing Willis to reprise Busted’s ten-years-ago pop punk single “Year 3000” made no sense at all. While Art Garfunkel’s “I Believe When I Fall In Love This Time It Will Be Forever” doesn’t come from a stage show, even with the occasional Rod Stewart rasp Mead did it well and it will be beautiful on a night when he’s recovered.

What brings you back from the interval in a better mood is the band. MD Will Stuart is an undiscovered marvel who plays piano astonishingly well – we’re talking Elton or Billy Joel class – and surrounded by talented sax, guitar and bassist he spurs the singers on to better performances when the band are given free rein. The guys’ bouncing about the stage is too “Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees” for comfort, but there’s a more engaging and darker set in which they riff bits of West Side Story and a couple of sombre ballads before Kerry Ellis pierces the dark with a controlled but overpowering “Defying Gravity”.

Ultimately, they’re all joined on stage by a choir of session singers to drive the final segment home with “One Day More” from Les Miserables  and “Bohemian Rhapsody” from, well, no musical whatsoever but every wedding you went to in the 80s. The choreography’s a bit like the dancing your dad did at them, too.

Date reviewed: Tuesday 4th June 2013
Image © Poppy Carter

One Stop ArtsOriginally published on One Stop Arts.