For a born-and-bred Londoner who loves the theatre, living in a little town on the Kent coast can be something of a hindrance at times, much as I do enjoy life in the Garden of England. For various reasons I haven’t been up to London from my little haven by the sea very much these past few months, so imagine my delight to finally be back in the hustle and bustle of our great capital on Sunday for The Songwriter’s Union. If you’re going to come back to London after a somewhat lengthy absence, then a night with some of our country’s best new musical theatre composers is the way to do it. Presented by the trans-Atlantic composing duo of Anderson & Petty, The Songwriter’s Union showcased not only some of their work, but that of fellow writers Christopher J. Orton and Laura Tisdall.
Barry Anderson and Mark Petty have been working together for several years now and have had their songs performed in various cabarets and concerts, including A Night of Anderson & Petty in March which marked their London debut. They are currently working on writing a song cycle and looking toward releasing their first songbook album.
Christopher J. Orton is one half of the creative mind behind the Welsh musical My Land’s Shore. Orton (music/lyrics) and Robert Gould (lyrics/book) released a cast recording earlier this year and have collaborated on a number of other musicals and plays. Orton is also an actor, currently to be seen in the West End comedy musical Spamalot at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Laura Tisdall is the creator of the two-act fantasy musical The In-Between. A concept album was recently released, featuring seven tracks from the show, while Tisdall’s first musical Faerytale was previously showcased by the Guildford School of Acting (GSA). She has also worked as an arranger and orchestrator on several live events, including Kerry Ellis’ Anthems concert.
The Songwriter’s Union took place at the Union Theatre, which is such a wonderfully intimate and atmospheric space for an event such as this. With the exception of Barry Anderson (who is currently flying the flag for A&P across the sea in America), Mark Petty, Christopher J. Orton and Laura Tisdall were all in attendance, along with some familiar faces in the audience such as Orton’s writing partner Robert Gould, Simon Greiff of SimG Productions and another up-and-coming new writer, Joe Sterling. The audience were treated to a selection of songs from the featured composers throughout the night, all of which were introduced by Petty and performed by an exceptional line-up of West End talent and a number of students from the Musical Theatre Academy (MTA).
Emily Tierney (The Wizard of Oz, Wicked) gave a beautiful rendition of Anderson & Petty’s moving lullaby ‘Forever Child’ while Kieran Brown’s (Wicked, Love Never Dies) performance of ‘A New Star Tonight’, a song specially written for him as a tribute to his nan following her passing earlier this year, was equally as emotive. A duet between Orton and Kelly-Anne Gower (Les Miserables, Blood Brothers) and the ballad from Matthew Barrow (Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz) were just as well received by the audience, who erupted for Ceili O’Connor’s (The Wizard of Oz, The Fantasticks) outstanding vocal display in the pop/rock ballad ‘Superman’. Kim Ismay (Mamma Mia, Sunset Boulevard) was originally intended to debut Anderson & Petty’s new comedy number ‘Prom Queen’, but after having to pull out due to illness, the song has yet to be pulled out of that secret bag of A&P goodies.
Two of the My Land’s Shore cast members were there to showcase some of the songs they performed on the album, with leading man – and Tenors of Rock band member – Jonathan Williams (Les Miserables, War of the Worlds) showing off that powerful voice in the inspiring title song backed up by the MTA students. Gower was also on hand to perform her solo number ‘I’ll Never Look Back’, while also duetting with stand-in man Craig Rhys Barlow (Les Miserables) on ‘I Don’t Know What To Tell You’. There were also a couple of Orton’s own original compositions, with fellow Spamalot cast member Michael Burgen (The Pirates of Penzance) sending the audience into peals of laughter with the very funny ‘stalker’ song, ‘I Won’t Leave You Alone’.
There were five songs from Tisdall’s The In-Between musical on show. Georgie Ashford (Legally Blonde) got the ball rolling on the night with ‘Someone You’d Be Proud Of’, while Nadine Cox (Mamma Mia, Billy Elliot) and Chloe Hart (Wicked, Hairspray) belted out a song each. The Wizard of Oz co-stars O’Connor and Sophie Evans gave a great performance with the amusing duet ‘She’s My Sister’ and Kieran Brown, stepping in at the last moment for Edd Post who was unable to be there on the night, more than delivered with what is my personal favourite from the show, ‘Beyond The Door’.
There was also a lovely performance from the stars of tomorrow, with the MTA students singing ‘We Need Love’, the finale song from In Touch which was written by one of our best new musical theatre writers Dougal Irvine and recently performed by the MTA at the Bridewell Theatre.
You didn’t need to be a fan of new writing to enjoy this night, which was perfectly executed under the musical direction of MTA principal Annemarie Lewis Thomas. The Songwriter’s Union gave the audience two hours of utterly wonderful music, performed by some of the best voices in the West End. For those who do like to follow new writing though, it was a beacon of light that provided hope for the future of musical theatre in the UK.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
To find out more about the work of the featured composers visit these links:
Tuesday 14th August 2012