Feature Review – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange

Written by: Michael Darvell

Bermange

Excerpts from:

Walking on the sun

Thirteen days

Odette – the dark side of Swan Lake

Aladdin

Close encounters

Shadowless

The seven ravens

The golden goose

The frog prince

Beauty and the beast

King Drosselmeyer

Performed by Ricardo Afonso, Sabrina Aloueche, Joanna Ampil, Daniel Boys, Earl Carpenter, Dean Chisnal, Dean Collinson, Cassandra Compton, Janie Dee, Mark Evans, James Gillan, Linzi Hateley, Ben James Ellis, Ramin Karimloo, Alexia Khadime, Jon Lee, Jenna Lee-James, Shona Lindsay, Susan McFadden, Dianne Pilkington, Lara Pulver, Jon Robyns, Summer Strallen, Oliver Thornton, Oliver Tompsett, Sally Ann Triplett

Alexander S Bermange (Piano)

CD Number: DRESS CIRCLE RECORDS 070 501-8

Duration: 72 minutes

Composer and lyricist Alexander S Bermange has had no less than thirteen musical shows staged since he left university. He is now just 32 years old, so a baker’s dozen of shows by that age must be something of a record. By the same age Stephen Sondheim had only written four complete shows. Admittedly three of them were on Broadway whereas Bermange’s musicals have appeared mainly on the fringe at the Bridewell, Canal Café, Pleasance Theatres and The O2 in London, with other productions in Yorkshire and Oxford, plus overseas stagings in Los Angeles, Graz in Austria and Hamburg and Hanau in Germany.

He has also written many comic songs, some of which have been collected on a CD called “Weird and Wonderful” (Dress Circle Records: CD number 070 357-3). He has written for radio in the UK and Germany, provided songs for Kit and the Widow, for actress and singer Jessica Martin at the Jermyn Street Theatre, and his music has been heard at the London Astoria, Pizza on the Park and the Edinburgh Festival. He has also written songs for Bill Kenwright’s production of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on air” at Windsor and Cambridge. In his spare time Bermange is also a musical director, having conducted the stage premiere of Bernstein’s “Peter Pan” at the King’s Head, Islington, “The Snowman” at Edinburgh, Charles Hart’s “Love Songs” at the Bridewell and Petula Clark’s “In her own write” album. Christmas 2008 saw him conducting his own music for “Cinderella” at London’s Shaw Theatre with Britt Ekland.

Bermange must have written hundreds of songs so far in his short career and “Act One” is a compilation of some of these from around a dozen of his musical shows, performed by young stars of the current West End theatre scene who are appearing in shows such as “We will rock you”, “Les Misérables”, “Joseph and the amazing Technicolor dreamcoat”, “High school musical”, “Mamma Mia!”, “The Phantom of the opera”, “The sound of music”, “Wicked” and “Avenue Q”. There is a current trend for young singers to have big, high, loud voices that are technically brilliant but which, in my opinion, lack essential warmth. There are exceptions and on this album they are mainly women singers such as Janie Dee, Linzi Hateley, Shona Lindsay, Summer Strallen and Sally Ann Triplett. Perhaps the modern male voice for popular music is not a warm instrument.

One thing that is obvious about the choice of songs is that they tend to be the big, heartrending anthemic numbers, in which the singer is pouring out his or her heartfelt passion. The titles themselves give the game away: ‘Trial of the heart’, ‘The threshold of her heart’, ‘You can read my heart’, ‘Where’s the love?’, ‘I only wish for you’ and ‘If no-one loves you’ – sung by characters all rather tortured by love requited or otherwise. This makes “Act One” sound very much the same with little variation in mood. There is really only one comic song ‘My prince’ which is charmingly sung by Lara Pulver and quite unexpected among the more earnest tracks. It’s from “Odette”, a show about the black swan, the dark side of “Swan Lake”. Here she sounds more like a disappointed Cinderella: “I have sworn my love to every beast that’s gone by” and “I have shown up at balls with slippers of glass,” she says, bemoaning her fate. Alexander Bermange is also noted for his comedy numbers and his “Weird and wonderful” album has such delights as ‘Wedding night’, ‘He left me for my granny’ and ‘I’ve fallen in love with a sheep’ which should give you an idea of his sense of humour.

“Act One” seems mainly to be a compilation of what the Broadway musical used to call the eleven o’clock number, the big solo that comes just before the end of the show. It’s a collection of climaxes that individually are impressive but perhaps a little too much all at one sitting. From “Walking on the sun” there is the title song, ‘How you imagine it to be’ and ‘Just for one moment in time’ which has nothing to do with the Whitney Houston hit ‘One moment in time’ by Albert Hammond and John Bettis. From “Thirteen days” come ‘Anyone but you’ and ‘More than a memory’, “Aladdin”, ‘I want to reach the stars’ and ‘Higher than a shooting star’.

Another song from “Odette” is ‘Trial of the heart’ (cf Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total eclipse of the heart’) and ‘Enchanted’. “The Frog Prince” is represented by ‘If this could be forever’ and ‘You can read my heart’, from “Shadowless” are ‘The threshold of her heart’ and ‘I’ve grown to learn’, and from “The seven ravens come ‘The magic’s with me’ and ‘I only wish for you’. “The golden goose” fields ‘The land of gold’, “Close encounters” has ‘Where’s the love?’, “Beauty and the beast” ‘Can’t get enough’ and “King Drosselbart” ‘If no-one loves you’. It is an impressive collection of work from a gifted composer-lyricist interpreted by a talented young group of performers with assertive piano accompaniment by the composer. “Act One” has the seal of approval from the album’s sponsors who include The Mackintosh Foundation and The Really Useful Group. Who knows: one day the West End may ring to the sounds of a hit show by this major talent of the British musical theatre.

Dress Circle

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