Genesis to Broadway is, musically, a giant step but perhaps too big for such a small venue.
Maybe technology let the stars of the show down but did the talented Fem Belling and Tod Strike, obviously well-schooled in voice projection, really need the volume? It would have been so easy, surely, to turn it down and improve the intimacy that should be an integral part of a small venue. The professionalism of these two performers was without question as they sang and danced their way through music and songs the audience obviously appreciated, from early Klezmer music to the best of Broadway composers like Cohen, Porter, Bernstein and Hammerstein. The material was there but a parallel could be drawn between the way the presentation of food has changed over the years from too much on the plate to a minimalist degustation. “Less is more”, which is attributed to a 19th century architect who believed simplicity and clarity was paramount in design, came to mind.
So many parts of this ambitious show were gems, like the sweet violin played by Belling to accompany a soulful rendition by Strike of a Jewish song but, like many other jewels, it was cut short as they leapt a few years or centuries to a different form of music, requiring an instant change of costume and yet another brilliant dance routine!
The trio of drums, saxophone and piano did a wonderful job of accompanying all these changes without overpowering them. However, the musical director, Warren Wills, had to remind the audience that they were aware they may have left out some notable contributors to the development of music over that long period. To cover them he raced through many familiar chords, on the piano, of shows we knew well.
Having begun the show with Adam and Eve, the sequence seemed to lose focus, especially in the second half, when some tunes around the Al Jolson period were repeated while the significant contribution of people like Bessie Smith and Billy Holiday didn’t rate a mention.
Yet so much was delivered with humour and expertise and so many wonderful tunes stayed in my head the next morning, that it was difficult express even slight dissatisfaction. Suffice to say, all Genesis to Broadway needs is a little surgery, a painful but necessary process to which even the best writers have to submit to do justice to the brilliance of their creation.