What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined, Menier Chocolate Factory, SE1
reviewed for The Times, 17 July 2015
This is Bacharach reimagined by the Glee generation, where everyone is friends, everyone has perfect teeth and everyone is euthanised at thirty. Photo: Nobby Clark
Even if you haven’t heard of Burt Bacharach, his pop music has shaped your life. Dig through his discography and you’re sure to find that the 87-year-old composer is behind at least one of your favourites, whether it’s Walk On By (Dionne Warwick), Close to You (the Carpenters) or The Look of Love (Dusty Springfield).
So if your idea of a good night out is singing along to Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head while wholesome stage-school kids grin and gurn, you’ll probably have fun at this 90-minute medley of his greatest hits. It’s saccharine stuff: “I’m Kyle and these are some of my friends” , hoots the all-American creator and lead guitarist Kyle Riabko, as he introduces his cast, straight from The Mickey Mouse Club.
This is Bacharach reimagined by the Glee generation, where everyone is friends, everyone has perfect teeth and everyone is euthanised at thirty. Christine Jones’ and Brett J. Banakis’ gorgeous set puts us in a late 1970s dorm room, but the sound and sense are pure Taylor Swift — at one point, a girl examines a cassette tape as if it’s a prehistoric object.
There’s no doubting Riabko’s technical skill in weaving together a continuous web of sound from Bacharach’s individual pieces. A range of musical styles are on show, from punk to calypso, although it’s best when he keeps it simple – Riabko delivers an affecting solo rendition of A House Is Not a Home.
Yet he can’t help oversugaring even the darkest of moments: a hard rock version of Do You Know the Way to San Jose gets a backing chorus of inane la-la-las. The director Steven Hoggett’s stagings of his casts’ musical flirtations are as clean as the Beach Boys and, for something purporting to be down with today’s kids, doggedly heterosexual.
Amid this are still moments of clarity. Whenever the singer Anastacia McCleskey comes to the fore, it’s like suddenly seeing a living figure in a room full of waxworks.