“The Wit and Whimsy of Alexander S. Bermange”

Alexander S. Bermange ( Amine Hkouider)

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.

Alexander Bermange

“..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.

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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