I’ve seen a lot of shows produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment over the past year that I’ve loved – Pippin, Yank, Spring Awakening and The Toxic Avenger were all brilliant – so when I heard she was bringing a song cycle to the Union Theatre, I was definitely interested. It’s Only Life brings together five performers following a story of longing, wisdom, fulfillment, loss and triumph, tying these feelings with songs by John Bucchino.
Starring a mesmerising cast of Noel Sullivan (Rock of Ages, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Jennifer Harding (Funny Girl, Legally Blonde), Jordan Shaw (Follies, Tick Tick…Boom) and new graduates Sammy Graham and Will Carey, It’s Only Life features life as a series of moments. Snippets into a variety of lives, each of the 23 songs featured in the piece are a standalone piece with strong characterisation from the small cast.
William Whelton’s choreography was fluid, bringing that cast together as one rather than each of them using their bodies as a single entity. Whilst the choreography would’ve been smothered in a larger space, the intimacy of the Union Theatre kept the audience close and invested by every move.
The company’s performance of That Smile gave us a comedic performance with spectacular harmonies, giving us every possible couple combination whilst revealing the pain of unrequited love. Will Carey’s professional debut is something of a special moment, with his rendition of Bucchino’s On My Bedside Table. A fun number showcasing a young man trying to prove to his ex that he is well and truly over the relationship also showcased his young spirit and cheekiness. Fresh out of the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer Of The Year competition, he was the standout performer of the show. However, an honourable mention has to be given to Noel Sullivan for his rendition of Grateful which left me with a lump in my throat, proving that he might just have one of the strongest voices on the UK theatre scene.
Unfortunately, where the show was lacking was the songs themselves. They just aren’t memorable. They don’t have the complexity of composition that the likes of Jason Robert Brown’s writing (and his song cycle Songs For A New World) has, or the repeats that we find in the works of Bucchino’s obvious inspiration, Stephen Sondheim. I can remember the performances, but there is nothing outstanding in terms of score.
This sleek ensemble piece is stunning addition to the London theatre scene, with each narrative strongly intertwining to leave the audience affirmed. Each member of the company knew the role they were playing, which is no mean feat when each character is difference with every number. There is a heart to this production that only comes when the entire team involved believe in what is on stage. Whilst it may only be life, this is a production worth adding to yours before it closes.
It’s Only Life is playing at the Union Theatre until 7th July.