Composer of many musicals and frequently heard singing self-penned comic songs on Broadcasting House BBC Radio 4, Alexander S. Bermange has presented a collection of his comedic numbers at St James Studio.
“..refreshingly British, with a particular charm..there are hints throughout of something more”
Prodigious composer of many musicals and frequently heard on Broadcasting House BBC Radio 4, Alexander S. Bermange has put together a collection of his comedic numbers and presented them at St James Studio.
It seems Bermange has always wanted to write from early childhood, starting with stories and later both songs and whole shows. Much of the material tonight has a similar feel to the work he does on Radio 4 and the World Service, taking a wry look at contemporary phenomena and singing his own gently mocking ditties to bring a smile.
His style is reminiscent of Flanders and Swann – refreshingly British, with a particular charm, and indeed whimsical. His humour is eccentric and oblique – the titles “He Left Me For My Granny” and “I’ve Fallen In Love With A Sheep” demonstrate his individual off-the-wall quality, but his most successful items were those which are more acutely observant of modern-day life e.g. “Moaning About Phoning” on being given every option under the sun, except of course the one you want, “Easy As A-P-C” on the frustrations of technology and the excellent finale song “We’ve Never Had it So Good” on our constant reliance on smartphones and social media, and the lack of actual communication they engender.
Sharing the stage with him were two guest artists from West End musicals, Cassidy Janson and Julie Atherton. They each made an excellent contribution with expert vocal skills, comic timing and crisp pinpointed delivery making the most of every line and bringing out all the characterisation and sharpness of songs they were given. Amongst other numbers Cassidy sang “Multiplexity”, on the ‘joys’ of attending a multiplex cinema, and Julie treated us to a character singer proving an accompanist’s nightmare in “I Love to Sing”.
Bermange chose to include very little of his Musical Theatre work, and certainly none of his more earnest and angst-ridden numbers. He explained this was because he did not wish to present those songs out of the dramatic context they were written for and wanted to sing just his comic work for this programme.
This was, however, to the detriment of the evening as a whole. Charming though much of the material is, this kind of work is by nature quick written ditties, rather than carefully crafted songs. There was a lack of variety, not only in style and subject-matter, but in musical structure too. Nearly every piece followed a verse, chorus pattern with very similar rhythms. For an evening like this, even presenting all comic pieces, there needs to be variation of musical style, perhaps including swing, Latin rhythms and ballads.
His patter between numbers is well delivered and reasonably crafted. He also accompanies himself on piano, and the show is well directed (Michael Strassen) in terms of tight lighting and good stagecraft for the two guests, all of which helped maintain the interest.
However, the gentleness of the humour, whilst enjoyable lacks bite and depth, and the songs have a feel of “fill in” between other numbers that ought to be there. The skill in presenting a show of this kind is in the programming and linking, and it is a great shame he did not showcase his undoubted talent in the field of Musical Theatre, placing those works in a different context altogether and allowing them to stand on their own merits. By doing this, he would also bring the amusing side of his writing into sharper relief.
As the piece stands, the constant light-weight feel of the work leaves one feeling slightly unsatisfied and even a little bit cheated, as there are hints throughout of something more that would make for a well-rounded evening and show his regular audience just what substance and ability he has.