The New York-London Rendezvous, Canal Café Theatre, London ★★★

Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:

Once a year, old friends Valerie and George reunite. Though one lives in New York, the other in London, their annual reunion is a chance to catch up, and to burst into song at every opportunity to belt out a variety of cabaret standards.

Thus begins the rather contrived premise of The New York-London Rendezvous, in reality a structured cabaret by real life friends Valerie Cutko and George Rae with accompaniment by Matheson Bayley.

To structure an evening of show tunes in such a format certainly gets around the perennial problem of how to make those inter-song moments work in an original way.

It’s a shame, then, that while the script (devised by director Jake Murray and the company) manages to capture how banal a conversation between two old friends can seem to those on the outside, it does little to offer much in the way of character development short of providing neat inroads into each number.

And generally, those songs are pleasantly chosen. There’s a little too much dependency on Sondheim, perhaps, but along with those standards are a fair old spattering of other songwriters. Some are woven into the play’s narrative conceit better than others – Cutko relating the tale of an amorous flight attendant in ‘Come Again Soon’, for example, or in the opening number of ‘Another Hundred People’, even as it survives the indignity of being relocated to Charing Cross Station.

But others struggle: while Rae gives a beautiful rendition of ‘Larger Than Life’ from the Flaherty/Ahrens musical My Favorite Year, the transition into it feels awkward, one of several points where the script has to take several sharp turns in order to accommodate the song choice.

As singers, Cutko and Rae tend to alternate numbers, but their occasional duets have the sweetness of two genuine friends. Nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘We’ll Take a Glass Together’ from Grand Hotel, the musical in which both actors appeared during its recent Southwark Playhouse revival.

But the friendship and camaraderie evident there is not well served by the script. In the show’s brief 45-minute running time, it feels as if the noble attempt to do something with a cabaret set-up is squandered. Neither character comes across as a coherent whole, and the attempt at providing any more of a narrative through-line is unsuccessful.

As the couple don their coats and sing another duet, ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, they share a promise to do the same next year. Nobody has changed, nothing has moved on: yet for the audience, the promise of a different take on the cabaret show remains frustratingly unfulfilled.

 

Photo by jahborgs on Flickr, used under CC license.

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