Starting Here, Starting Now

Small-scale musical revues are rarely as polished or as satisfying as the latest offering by Manila Street Productions, Starting Here, Starting Now. 

Black Box, The Arts Centre, MelbourneManila Street Productions
Wednesday, 23 June, 2010
Small-scale musical revues are rarely as polished or as satisfying as the latest offering by Manila Street Productions, Starting Here, Starting Now. 
Shows of this scale are actually harder to get right than some large-scale musicals. For one thing there are no ‘ready-to-wear’ sets, costumes or characters to get things moving along.  
A revue is a more intimate experience than a big show. The performers are more accessible yet also more vulnerable, and are called on to create a shared emotional connection with the audience that has a different dimension and dynamic.
First produced at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1976, Starting Here, Starting Now is a great vehicle for a strong cast. With lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr and music by David Shire, the show explores the myriad of ups and downs in romantic relationships but digs a fair bit deeper than your average show tune. 
Usually performed by a cast of three singers and three musicians, it has been adapted for four singers – two women (Anita Louise Combe and Christie Whelan) and two men (Martin Crewes and Simon Gleeson) – as well as one highly-talented pianist, Simon Holt. The show is directed by experienced West End director, Andrew Macbean, who has spent 20 years in the UK, worked alongside theatre legends such as Trevor Nunn and does a great job with this piece.
Staged simply with a crimson four-seater lounge, a few stools and the obligatory grand piano, the cast take us through a variety of solos, duets and ensemble pieces that weave beautifully in and out of each other and gradually build a complex picture of romantic love in all its bliss, longing and lament.
From the outset the vocal blend is rich and strong, and the four work easily and naturally with each other and with Holt. The harmonies and sudden changes in tempo are expertly handled and no-one misses a beat, or at least not an important one. Combe, who has spent the last 20 years on the West End in shows like Chicago, Saturday Night Fever and Sunset Boulevard, impresses immediately. A great actor and singer she knows how to get inside a song and make it her own, from the quirky ‘I’m a Little Bit Off’ in Act I through to the achingly beautiful ‘A Girl You Should Know’ in Act II. Her shimmering voice, intelligent musical phrasing and natural poise on stage are a joy.
Also impressive is Whelan who has a charming, if slightly more fragile sound that is well-suited to humorous patter numbers like ‘Crossword Puzzle’ in Act 1 but comes into its own later in a lingering, haunting performance of ‘Watching the Big Parade Go By’.
Although the guys seem to do less solo work than the girls, when they do it’s equally memorable. Crewes is perfect underplayed charm in the soft-shoe number, ‘Flair’, and Gleeson absolutely nails the best song of the night, ‘Patterns’. Beautifully and sensitively sung, he brings out the anguish and inner turmoil of a man destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over. 
Not only is this show good entertainment, pure and simple, it is a wonderful display of the craft of music theatre at its best by a bunch top-notch practitioners.  
Bookings: / 1300 182 183  / or in person at the Arts Centre Box Office
Until 4 July, 2010

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