DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days.

The main personal highlight for me was seeing Bernadette Peters performing, someone who I really would love to see live one day. Her rendition of Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’ was superb as I suspected it would be but the way in which she sings Song and Dance’s ‘Unexpected Song’ is quite simply staggering: possibly one of the greatest interpretations of a song I’ve ever seen. She pummels it into submission creating something completely new and incredibly moving that I instantly hit the replay button to soak it all in once again. And offering a completely different, but equally awe-inspiring, take on a song was Judi Dench’s version of ‘Send In The Clowns’, dripping with bitterness and resentment and acted so perfectly that the lack of a showstopping singing voice actually feels like the perfect characterisation. I loved seeing Julia McKenzie and Jonathan Pryce onstage too and even Ms Paige’s contribution – Memory of course – fitted in well, a touch of classy restraint in the performance for once.

And the reason I found it so entertaining was that it also provided a little musical theatre history lesson for me. It may only have been 13 years ago but I wasn’t engaged in the world of theatre in any way near as much as I am now and so the chance to see performers who I am seeing on stage now, earning their reputations ‘back in the day’ as it were, was lots of fun. Whether it was Clarke Peters doo-wopping with the best of them in Five Guys Named Moe, Joanna Riding melting hearts with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, Ellen Greene’s quivering emotion as Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors or even recent resident of London Road Hal Fowler as a leading man in both Carousel and Les Mis, it was really nice to get that chance to do a little time-travelling to see performances from the past.

Not all of it worked for me: I thought the Lloyd-Webber/Sondheim skit ‘Duelling Pianos’ was overlong and under-funny, the recurring Christopher Biggins was an addition too far, I wasn’t a fan of John Barrowman’s number from The Fix nor Michael Ball’s rather glib rendition of ‘Losing My Mind’ and the way in which some imagination had been put into some sections highlighted the lack of it in others. The fun way in which the women of the company came together for ‘Broadway Baby’ had a unique energy that never really re-appeared and the cheekiness of how Five Guys Named Moe segued into Oliver! made me wish a little more of this had been done. And nothing could have prepared me for how odd it was to see Hugh Jackman in full musical theatre mode. I knew this was his background but I have to say it felt quite an awkward performance of ‘Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’’, him seeming a little at odds in the space which I’m sure isn’t a fair representation of his talents.

The nature of these sorts of events, especially in the age of YouTube, means that I can’t really imagine people actually buying a DVD like this and sitting down to watch it from start to finish more than once. Perhaps that just speaks more to my lack of attention span but regardless, it was a fun DVD to watch and nicely illuminatory in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

If you only watch one clip on YouTube ;-), make it…Bernadette Peters’ Unexpected Song

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