Composer and lyricist Alexander S. Bermange is noted for producing topical comic songs and singing them on radio and latterly on cruises. During of one of his shows at sea, Bermange observed how interested the audience was in the lives of his performers, perhaps believing that the actor-singers lived lives of utter bliss, staying in fancy hotels and being shepherded around in limousines. Since the opposite was nearer the truth, he decided to show the lives of strolling players in all their lack of glory, warts and all.
The result is I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical, in which four characters go through the motions of telling it like it really is. The piece begins with ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, a sort of invocation to see what we are in for. Now, every show has to have an Opening Number and Bermange provides one to end them all, a parody in the style of everything from Cole Porter to Stephen Sondheim. Then comes the ‘Audition’, and what a fraught event that can be, as there is always someone better before you and they are singing your song too!
All the theatrical drawbacks are based on stories gathered by Bermange from fellow performers and, as he says, “their most memorable (and funniest) real-life experiences that related to the subjects I had in mind.” Of the music he enjoyed, “a chance to indulge my love of creating original melodies that are fully or partly comprised of snatches of famous songs thematically linked to my own.”
Other problems his quartet of singers have to contend with include welcoming an outsider for the ‘Guest Spot’ for which they then take over the whole show, and then there’s the performer who admits that what they really want to do is vocalise, because even if they have no voice to speak or sing of, nevertheless they admit that ‘I Love to Sing’. Trying to be ‘A Serious Actor’ can be difficult if you are known only for musicals, although perhaps not as bad as having to be (perpetually) the one who is ‘Standing By’, ready to go on as the unappreciated understudy. Advice is given on how to achieve ‘The Kiss’ when on the stage and what to do when ‘The Diva’s In the House’ or ‘When a Fan Loves a Woman’.
All this good advice is doled out by Bermange’s singers, all of whom know a thing or seventeen about being in a musical show. Suzie Mathers has Wicked and Mamma Mia! under her belt, Madalena Alberto has done Piaf, Cats and Les Misérables, Lucas Rush we know from Thoroughly Modern Millie, Cabaret, Grease, and Fame, and Cedric Neal was in the original London cast of Motown, as well as King, and Porgy and Bess. They all throw themselves into the fray with complete abandon and certainly bring Bermange’s material to energetic and hilarious life.
Perhaps it’s all a little incestuous, however, with the world of the theatre cannibalistically eating itself, but for the most part it is good fun with everybody playing everything for laughs. However, I am not sure that The Crazy Coqs is the right venue, even though this is the second time the show has played there. There’s a lack of focus when the cast move around among the audience. I would prefer the players to stick to their “life upon the wicked stage” and leave the audience alone.
- I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical continues at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 until August 26, nightly (except Monday) at 7 p.m. or 9.15 p.m.