Review: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I planned a well-rendered, one-gendered lesbian love story”

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Andrew Lippa, whose work is being celebrated at the Menier Chocolate Factory with a vivacious show that cherry-picks from his career so far. Although born in Leeds, his successes have been over the Atlantic with shows like The Addams Family, Big Fish and The Wild Party which have helped him to build a considerable, if niche, audience. With the help of some classy West End friends though, this sparkling revue could well encourage a further groundswell of popular support in the UK and get Lippa’s work produced here more often. 

In the meantime, the concert format works well here with The Life of the Party. Lippa is a born raconteur and from his piano, he is a hugely entertaining presence full of gossipy tidbits but more importantly, brimming with enthusiasm for the world of musical theatre and his continued place in it. Talking about the songs and shows that have made up his oeuvre, there is no mistaking his sheer love for what he does and that brings something extraordinary to the material, an intensity that might not even been matched when the songs are being performed in their natural context within the shows.

It helps that those performing the songs are of the calibre that they are here. Lippa indulges himself a few times which is excusable but when Damian Humbley, Caroline O’Connor and Summer Strallen take their turns, they lift the show into something spectacular. The women shine particularly strongly, O’Connor’s take on ‘An Old-Fashioned Love Story’ is a Sapphic sensation and her take on ‘Love Somebody Now’ is a heart-breaking masterpiece. Strallen’s ‘Life of the Party’ is another highlight as Lippa’s lyrical strengths come to the fore matched with a striking performance. 

An admirable amount of attention has gone into every detail of this production which really does elevate it from your regular revue. So Morgan Large’s set design looks swish, Lynne Page’s choreography adds vim and verve to several numbers and Tim Lutkins’ lighting design showcases everything to its best degree. And with quality performances and the man himself taking us through skits and songs from a varied career, it surely can’t be long until we see one of his shows here again in London. 

Runs until 14th June

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