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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
125th Street
by Lizzie Loveridge

If he doesn't know it, you can sing it Acapulco.
-- Mo Finkel
What is Derek Lowe, the Caucasian, Glaswegian chef doing singing "Rescue Me" onstage at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London? He is this week's chosen amateur who gets to take part in 125th Street, the new musical from the creators of the long running Buddy. I wonder how many Glaswegians passed through the doors of Amateur Night at the Apollo, Harlem? In 1975 Bobby Schiffman claimed that 30 to 40 percent of the "major black attractions that are working today" were launched "at the Apollo's Amateur Night". Certainly the amateur showcase at the Apollo nurtured the careers of Sarah Vaughan, James Brown, Dionne Warwick and the Isley Brothers. So following up on the success of 1950s music in Buddy, the writers are hoping to have another hit based on the soul music of the 1960s. The spin is auditioning and incorporating Today's talented amateurs into the programme.

The musical is set on a night in 1969 when Civil Rights protests seized up much of the transportation system and stopped the star performers reaching the Apollo. A whole show starring amateurs was put together and, in the Buddy mould, the second half of the show delivers this improvised, tribute concert, a splendid programme of great Sixties numbers. The first half of the musical is more problematic as it attempts comedy with the deliberately ghastly ageing television presenter Tony Sorrento, (Domenick Allen) and Lorrie Kincaid, (Philippa Walker) the equally cringe making television floor manager who tells the audience where to applaud, laugh and shut up! The first act also introduces the talented amateurs as people, wannabes who staff the theatre in the costume department, behind the scenes and in catering, and local wide boy, looter Luther "the Alley Cat" Pearce (Gilz Terea).

The choreography is of the dancing with a microphone stand ilk but there is nice arm and hand action from the stand in Four Seasons, well three of them are stand ins - it seems one made it to the Apollo that night. The set effects are bright lights and swirling smoke, nothing too high tech or original.

I have my reservations about the inclusion of amateur singers. Not the well rehearsed Mr Lowe, but the two invitees from the audience, in the middle of the show, one of whom, a Margaret Thatcher lookalike, gave us "Kansas City" which was ok but the second with a shaky rendition of "My Way" was not something I expect to hear after paying top West End prices for a seat. Is the logical extension of reality television, Karaoke theatre? Can we look forward to the amateur spot in Hamlet when a member of the audience is invited to speak the "How do all occasions inform against us" soliloquy? The rest of the audience gave these two a great hand in the spirit of British fair play where such support is given to the underdog. I confidently told my companion that this interlude was to allow a big scene change behind the curtain. Wrong! Same old set.

I did however enjoy immensely the second half of Sixties numbers sung superbly: classics like Otis Reading's "Respect" and Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman", a real treat for Soul mates. The ensemble give some very talented performances but is the whole any better than the Sixties night at your local pub? I hope that Kevin Morrow (lead "amateur" Georgie Blues), Jia Frances (Dionne singalike Debbie), Ray Shell (a glorious transsexual Gracie), Peter Dalton (shy Bish Bosh with a deep register to die for) Johnnie Fiori (the supportive Mabeline) and Gary Bryden (Shades Jackson) find a worthy vehicle for their talent and I'll be queuing up to see them.

125th Street
Written by Rob Bettinson and Alan Janes
Directed by Rob Bettinson

Design by Adrian Rees
With: Domenick Allen, Kenneth Avery-Clarke, Gary Bryden, Julian Cannonier, David Clarke, Peter Dalton, Johnnie Fiori, Jia Frances, Paul gyngell, Sam Kelly, Julian Littman, Alana Maria, Jack McManus, Vinta Morgan, Kevyn Morrow, Lauretta Nkwocha, Mick Parker, Amanda Posener, Winston Rollins, Jason Rowe, Ray Shell, Michael Smith, Chris Storr, Gilz Terera, Trevor A Toussaint, Philippa Walker, Geoff Whitehorn
Lighting Designer: Joe Atkins
Sound Designer: Andrew Bruce and Simon Baker for Autograph
Choreography: Kim Gavin
Music Supervisor: David Mackay
Theatre Partners for the Harlem Company Limited
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 906 3798
Booking to 4th January 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th September 2002 performance at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2 (Tube: Holborn)
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