“We can’t forget that they are all our children too”
Peter Polycarpou has had a long and varied career but I will always remember him as Chris Theodopolopoudos from Birds of a Feather, a show I hated yet always seemed to watch when I was younger. So seeing him in a range of roles since I’ve started theatregoing has been a case of rehabilitation of my perception of him and one which I have rather enjoyed. Thus I was quite happy to go along to a one-off concert – The Songs of My Life, an evening with Peter Polycarpou – which celebrated his life and career at the Garrick Theatre this Sunday evening with a range of special guests and choral support from London drama schools.
A proud character actor, rather than a leading man, as Polycarpou’s own programme notes start off by saying, the list of shows in which he has actually starred makes really rather impressive reading: Miss Saigon, Oklahoma!, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Love Story… So as well as being treated with songs from these shows, sometimes with a bit of a twist – I loved being able to hear some of Howard Goodall’s Love Story again, Jos Slovick and Rebecca Trehearn filling in on ‘Phil’s Song/Summer’s Day’, a rousing ‘Bui Doi’ closed the main part of the evening, ‘It’s A Scandal’ received an amusing Cockney makeover and ‘Master of the House’ was transplanted to a Greek taverna to great effect – we also got a set of amusing anecdotes, amassed from a lifetime of experience. Performers often relish the freedom in selecting their own playlist for such shows, meaning they get the chance to sing songs their characters never did. And so Polycarpou gave his ‘Johanna’, from the West End-bound Sweeney Todd, and a quietly moving ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’.
Songs from less well known shows and some that he just wanted the opportunity to sing were also featured. The title track from Imagine This was something lovely (and made me want to track down the soundtrack) backed by, as he was at many times through the night, a choir made up of Mountview and Arts Ed students; The Producers’ ‘King of Broadway’ was a tightly choreographed delight, and ‘Lost in the Stars’, from a Kurt Weill musical of the same name stood out too. There were also a few forays into pop/soul numbers which I wasn’t so keen on like ‘Heaven Help Us All’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, Peter’s sister Eve Polycarpou giving us a rendition of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ here too, but the Randy Newman material worked well.
But even in a show celebrating his own career, Polycarpou shared the limelight generously, allowing moments for his guests to really shine too. Hannah Waddingham brought the house down with an impassioned rendition of Ragtime’s ‘Back To Before’, following a romp through ‘The Song That Goes Like This’ with the leading man; Simon Bowman gave us ‘Music of the Night’, Stuart Matthew Price duetted on his own ‘Stories for Heroes’ and Claire Moore and Rebecca Trehearn combined to great effect on Miss Saigon’s ‘I Still Believe’. And reinforcing his strong teaching work, he gave over the spotlight to two upcoming talents: Valjean-in-the-making Samuel Nunn and Tyrone Huntley who both impressed.
There were the usual issues with events such as these: Michelle Collins, scheduled to duet on ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, was a last minute dropout; and there was some extremely wayward sound design issues which remained a problem, though not huge, for most of the evening. But altogether it was a lovely evening that paid great tribute to a varied performer who perhaps deserves more credit than he currently gets. The final ensemble rendition of ‘Seasons of Love’ was a brilliant way to end the evening, Waddingham giving it her best vamping, but a final encore of Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I Do’ – a perfect nod to his televisual past – showed real class.