Aria Entertainment is back with its return season of celebrated, Jewish Legends. A musical revue honouring some of the greatest contributions Jewish performers have made to the entertainment industry, performed Upstairs At The Gatehouse.
Simply set in front of a multi-coloured star cloth, the four actors gave grounded performances in a selection of cleverly selected and arranged musical gems creating an often poignant evening of entertainment. The cast were accompanied by piano, drums, double bass and guitar effortlessly led by musical director Freddie Tapner.
Act One gave the audience glimpses of greats’ Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Groucho Marx, Fanny Brice and Zero Mostel. Celebrating the highs and lows of their careers through well written monologue, giving background information as we were led into each song. Special mention is given to Joanna Lee for the very touching Sophie Tucker’s ‘My Yiddishe Mama’ and Molly Marie Walsh’s character driven performance of Fanny Brice’s ‘Second Hand Rose’.
Being a pub theatre, Upstairs At The Gatehouse had the audience very close to the cast giving them a great opportunity to interact. Although sung well, I found it hard to connect with the cast or be drawn into their realities as they often looked over the heads of the audience during songs creating a disconnect. The dialogue was well crafted and performed admirably passing impersonations and jokes around the cast, however the performances seemed very rehearsed and not overly organic.
Act Two saw performances from Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler and Burt Bacharach. With these artists, the cast seemed to relax and enjoy themselves. Opening the act Joanna Lee performed a rousing ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and Molly Marie Walsh gave a passionate ‘When The Parade Passes By’. It was then onto the Divine Miss M and a powerful four part arrangement of ‘The Rose’, perfectly displaying the vocal talents of each cast member. Special Act Two mentions are given to both Lee and Walsh for Bacharach’s ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ and Martin Milnes with ‘Alfie’, two songs that had some audience members close to tears.
Had The Jewish Legends been performed by four well known artists, the formal black-dressed concert setting would have been fitting. However the cast needed to connect with their audience and often came across overly dramatic and impressionable. The amount of information given about each legend was a lot to take in and a more fun approach would have aided the audience, rather than seeming an attack.
That being said, the production was vocally tight and some effective performances were given. We left with a feeling of elation after a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The Jewish Legends is a show for anyone who enjoys a musical trip down memory lane.
Reviewed by Stuart James
The Jewish Legends is playing at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 12 September 2015.