Scott Evan Davis, The Pheasantry, London ★★★

Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:

New York-based composer Scott Evan Davis has been compared to the likes of Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, Georgia Stitt and Lance Horne. As evidenced by his debut show at London’s Pheasantry – the first such show produced by Woking-based internet radio show Sunday Show Tunes – he might also put one in mind of a less intense Scott Alan, with a song set dominated by emotional ballads.

Like Alan, Davis prefers to have other people sing his songs while he accompanies them on piano, and a plethora of guests in his Pheasantry show are a sign of the songwriter’s appeal to musical theatre performers.

Charlotte Wakefield (currently touring in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) is first up to the plate, with a version of ‘Cautiously Optimistic’, the song which gave the name to Davis’ first CD.

Wakefield starred in Davis’ musical Picture Perfect when it premiered at the St James Theatre in 2014, and her return in Act II to sing ‘If We Say Goodbye’ from that show illustrates what can happen when a performer connects so fully with a song that it becomes a part of their repertoire (in one of his many unguarded moments, Davis revealed that Wakefield suggested the song’s inclusion to him after he had provided her a list of alternative numbers to sing).

And individual songs from Davis’ back catalogue clearly inspire performers. Hannah Grover, who stepped in at the last minute to replace a performer who had work commitments, manages to provide a word-perfect rendering of ‘He’s Perfect’, a wordy comedy number about a woman contemplating a marriage proposal from a wealthy man in search of a trophy wife – a rendition that would not be possible were there not affection for the work.

But notably, ‘He’s Perfect’ is by far the closest Davis comes to a pure comedy number (although Joel Harper-Jackson, another Picture Perfect alumnus, delivers an uproarious performance of ‘Just a Word’ about a man who struggles to apologise).

Far more of Davis’ songs are balladic in style – and even conform to the same template: a slow first verse, before speeding up for the first chorus and a belted key phrase.

Taken individually, they are fine – and when performed by the likes of Stuart Matthew Price and Ailsa Davidson (who first duet on ‘Take On the World’, before Davidson solos with ‘I Can Be’ and Price takes the show towards its finale with ‘Next’, the title song from Davis’ new CD) they are certainly appealing. But en masse within a cabaret show, the similarities between songs become more pronounced.

That does mean that any break from the norm stands out all the more. Such is the case with young performer Ilan Galkoff, first introduced on stage with the mother-son duet ‘Walk a Little Slower’, here reworked as a trio with Pippa Winslow as the mother and Luke Bayer as an older version of Galkoff’s son character.

Galkoff has a clarity and confidence that works well with Davis’ melodies, as shown in his rendition of ‘If the World Only Knew’, the award-winning song from Davis’ musical developed with, for and about children on the autistic spectrum.

While Galkoff is just starting out on his musical career, Davis also calls on those whose list of stage credits is impressively long. Rosemary Ashe delivers a poignant number, ‘Save Me the Rose’, about a widow coming to terms with life without her husband, while Davis’ friend from New York, Broadway stalwart Willy Falk, performs the heartbreaking ‘Before I Forget’, as a man facing a life with dementia struggles to hold on to memories of his partner.

For all the seriousness of his compositions, though, there is a humour in Davis’ inter-song banter which helps keep the energy levels in the Pheasantry pleasantly topped up.

When Davis finally stands up from the piano to sing his most openly autobiographical number, ‘I Am’ (his place taken on keys by Michael Riley, joining Hannah Ashenden who accompanies on cello throughout), the deserved applause he receives is for a composer who will no doubt become better known in the UK in years to come.