“If I’m in town, I want to be the toast of it”
Songs from a Hotel Bedroom is a new dance/musical hybrid written by Kate Flatt and Peter Rowe which uses the music of Kurt Weill and tango dancing to illuminate the journey of a tragic love affair. Produced by SEGUE, a company known for their cross-artform work and co-produced with Watford Palace Theatre, The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich and co-comissioners ROH2 at the Royal Opera House, it will perform short runs at each venue over the coming weeks. Starting in a hotel room in New York in 1949, we meet Angélique, a singer who is picking her way through a suitcase of memories as she looks back on a rollercoaster journey of a short but heady romance with songwriter Dan, interspersed with traditional musical numbers, performances by Angélique in character and two dancers who appear periodically, adding their own commentary on the relationship.
It is quite a mix of elements and occasionally they all come together perfectly, but at times things are a bit disjointed, particularly in the way that the dancers are used. Too often they come on after a musical number has finished but to the sound of something musically different, thereby meaning that the evening doesn’t flow as well as it should. But there are also times when everything comes together gloriously, like during a raucous aftershow party in a hotel with Angélique singing ‘One Life To Live’ with the band partying and playing with her and the dancers in there too.
Frances Ruffelle is superb as chanteuse Angélique, perhaps predictably strongest in the straight performances of numbers like September Song and a beautiful rendition of Maurice Magre’s ‘Je Ne T’aime Pas’. And when she sings with Nigel Richards’ powerfully voiced Dan, there’s a great chemistry. They struggle a little more in the dramatic scenes due to some rather trite dialogue which veers close to melodrama throughout, but these are mostly short and the music is never far away. Amir Giles and Tara Pilbrow dance beautifully with predominantly tango-inspired routines, but there’s a few contemporary sequences in there too which test the athletism of both of them.
The musical arrangements are by James Holmes who also leads the seven person band who play throughout on-stage with a nice precision and great balance; they additionally play the role of Dan and Angélique’s accompanists and so have some interaction with proceedings as well. Chloe Lamford’s set design is effective: two archways with sliding panels able to suggest a range of locations, often with a nice reveal but it did have the result of forcing the band to the very back of the stage which means only the people in the most central seats can see them all, half the players were hidden from my view and I had reasonably good seats. Her costumes were excellent though, especially for Ruffelle who got a series of lovely ensembles, sexy period underwear as well as a gorgeous burgundy dress for her big show.
Songs from a Hotel Bedroom is a nicely ambitious piece of musical theatre which is refreshingly different and unafraid to experiment. Not all of it comes off 100%, but the use of Kurt Weill’s music is inspired as it is so evocative and perfectly bittersweet for this story and sung as well as it is here by Ruffelle and Richards, it makes for an entertaining evening.