Review: Make Me A Song (New Players Theatre)

Make Me A Song

I went to see Make Me A Song on Saturday night, which is on at the New Players Theatre until next Saturday (6th April).

For those of you that don’t know anything about this show, it’s a revue show, based on the work of American composer William Finn. And frankly, I can’t quite work out why the producers decided to put this show on London at the moment. It’s not that I don’t like William Finn (because I do!) and it’s not that the show isn’t enjoyable (because it is!).

But if someone wanted to put on a William Finn show in London, why didn’t they choose one of the musicals he has written? Why not produce A New Brain, which as far as I am aware, has never been on in London? Why not produce Falsettoland, my favourite Finn show, which hasn’t been on recently? Given that none of these shows have been staged recently, lots of people won’t have even heard of Finn, even some musical theatre fans. So where is the audience meant to come from?

And therefore it’s no surprise to find that the show hasn’t sold particularly well. Obviously I don’t know how it has done from a financial perspective, but I know that half-price tickets have been offered recently. I also know that even on the penultimate Saturday night of the show, the 250-seat auditorium was only half-full.

Unfortunately, I think this is a real shame, as there’s a risk that other producers will be put off putting William Finn shows on in London, as they’ll fear not getting an audience. I think they could, but somewhere like the Menier or Donmar would probably be more likely to make a commercial success of it (I’ll keep my fingers crossed!).

It’s also a shame because the show itself was really enjoyable, and the production was good, if not perfect.

The show has plenty of great songs, which is what I care about in a revue show. There are songs from March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland, A New Brain and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, as well as a few songs that don’t come from a show.

There are no weak choices here, so it’s tough to choose favourites, but I particularly liked ‘I’m Not That Smart’ from …Spelling Bee, ‘Sailing’ from A New Brain and the medley from Falsettoland. I was disappointed to find that the best song from Falsettoland – ‘What would I do’ was not included in the show (see my 5 favourite William Finn songs here). I’m reliably informed that the rights for this song are sold separately to performers want to perform it, and it’s possible that this precluded its inclusion with Make Me A Song (although I can’t say that for sure!).

Andrew MacBean’s direction was effective – given that it’s a revue show, I thought it flowed nicely and didn’t feel like a concert performance at any stage. The only musical accompaniment was an on-stage pianist, who was superb.

For me, the only place the show fell down at all was in the cast. There was plenty of talent within the cast – Louise Dearman and Gareth Snook were particuarly impressive, the latter providing the funniest moments. Ian H Watkins was slightly under-used, but has a lovely voice, so I wish we had seen more of him.

The weak link in the cast though, was Frances Ruffelle. Although she is the most experienced on paper, I was hugely unimpressed by her performance. Her voice might be good for jazz, but it didn’t work for this show. It was over-the-top, with too much vibrato, and far too little subtlety. She also seemed to be constantly trying to out-perform her co-stars, which I thought backfired. I wish the director had cast a talented unknown instead…

Right, that’s my rant over…

I have dwelled slightly on a negative there, but let me say one more time that I DID enjoy the show. William Finn is fabulous and I would love to see one of his shows staged in London very soon. I am confident that it would be more successful commercially than Make Me A Song has been.


3 Responses to “Review: Make Me A Song (New Players Theatre)”

  1. 1 Hazel April 1, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I saw this show recently, and thought your review (which I mostly agreed with) was generous to Frances Ruffelle. I have scarcely ever seen a performer who so completely turned me off what I was watching on stage, and whom I spent the whole performance trying to avoid watching. It was genuinely unpleasant to see such a selfish performance from one of the least talented of the cast members. For all her many years of experience, Ms Ruffelle has clearly not yet accepted that an audience really doesn’t need (or want) to hear her voice above everyone else’s, at all times. Just a small shred of musicality and ability to blend her voice in the ensemble sections would have gone some small way to making her chronic over-acting and hair-tossing somewhat more palatable.

    On the positive side, though – from the MD, one of the most sensitive pieces of musical theatre accompaniment I’ve heard in a long time; and I thought Gareth Snook was outstanding.

  1. 1 Top 5 musical theatre actresses « Musical Top Fives Trackback on April 3, 2008 at 11:28 am
  2. 2 My top 5 musical theatre actresses « Coloured Lights Trackback on April 30, 2008 at 2:06 pm

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