Gala: A Review

A Stage Kindly presents Gala
Sunday 9th October, Greenwich Theatre

In the current climate of continued jukebox musicals and film adaptations (there’s even talk of Bend It Like Beckham, the musical!), it’s refreshing and unusual to find a company dedicated to developing, promoting and performing new musical works. A Stage Kindly, led by Giles Howe and Katy Lipson, is just that sort of company, and has for the past three years produced a number of new musicals from a large batch of international writers.

It’s a great achievement when you consider the company is independent and un-funded, and most performers, as is often the case in fringe theatre, give their time and skills for free. So with that in mind, I was keen to see what the last three years had produced.

I must admit, I was a little worried upon seeing the nearly thirty songs listed in the programme, such an onslaught of musical theatre numbers can leave one more than a little numb. However, on the whole the evening programme was well enough balanced to maintain interest.

The ‘cast’ of nearly 20 delivered each song with great enthusiasm, and several performers stood out, particularly the duets of David O’Mahoney and Kendra McMillan and Kimberly Blake, who performed the opening number, I Love To Sing by Alexander S. Bermange. However, whilst individual performances were often memorable (and mostly for the right reasons), many of the songs themselves were fairly forgettable and few of the melodies have survived in my memory.

Some simply lacked a strong enough hook, whilst others suffered a little from rather vapid lyrics, leaving little for the listener to hold on to. Many were good, but perhaps in need of a workshop and rewrite or some critical analysis to make the move from good to great. Songs such as I Know I Love Him (Christopher J Orton & Bob Gould) would benefit from the odd lyric change, whilst In A Far Off Land (from ‘Soviet Zion’ by Katy Lipson and Giles Howe) was stylistically and musically successful but lyrically a little like a revolutionary shopping list.

The odd song seemed to be making up the numbers, and Rescue Remedy (Tim Prottey-Jones) in particular had me reaching for my own. However, it would be unfair not to single out some of the stronger compositions of the night. Marry Me (Noel Katz) encapsulated the commitment difficulties of every man in a neat couple’s duet, whilst I Just Need To Be Loved (Christopher J Orton & Bob Gould) was probably the most emotionally engaging of the night. That’s A Wrap (Michael Colby & Paul Katz) was notably the only song for an older character, the washed out actress seeking one more chance, whilst the lyrically engaging a Simple Valley Song (Pippy Cleary & Jake Brunger) is one of the few to stay firmly in my memory – partly in thanks to a great performance by Charlotte Bradford.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that in a revue-style evening the most successful songs were those with a strong character aspect. Others perhaps needed the support of context, a telling test for any composer. The crucial thing is that A Stage Kindly are doing what very few in the industry are, in giving new writers a chance to try their work in front of real audiences, to see what works, to develop and hone their craft, and for that they must be commended, encouraged and supported. I look forward to seeing what the next three years bring.

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