Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 13 2016
From cabaret to opera, and much else besides, a delightful evening of comic song rounds off this year's London Song Festival
For the final event of this year's London Song Festival, artistic director Nigel Foster was joined by soprano Melinda Hughes and tenor Nicky Spence for an evening of comic songs at the Warehouse, Theed Street on Tuesday 13 December 2016. The evening combined songs by Flanders & Swan, Victoria Wood, Jeremy Nicholas, Mischa Spoliansky, Tom Lehrer, Ty Jeffries, Tim Minchin and Jason Robert Brown with an aria from Jonathan Dove & Alasdair Middleton's The Enchanted Pig, and songs by Jeremy Limb & Melinda Hughes, finishing with 'The song that goes like this' from Eric Idle & John du Prez' Spamalot.
We opened with a group entitled Wrestling Relationships, beginning Adelaide's aria from The Enchanted Pig by Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton, with a spectacular show of temperament by Melinda Hughes. Then came Nicky Spence, in dinner jacket, black shirt and white tie, to perform Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango, Highly controlled at first, Spence barely moved but made us hang on every word, which made the moment when he did start to tango really count.The final song in this group was Flanders and Swann's The Warthog with Hughes as a delightful warthog and Spence as the narrator. The duet enabled us to hear the way these two artists approached the comedy, in very different but equally valid ways.
Taking a Trip started with one of Melinda Hughes own songs, written with Jeremy Limb, Country Estate which was notable for the very clever lyrics. Nicky Spence then returned dressed as a boy scout, to give fine account of Jeremy Nicholas's Camping Out in which Spence's totally serious delivery made the double entendres count even more. The group finished with Pigalle by Ty Jefferies (better known as the artiste Miss Hope Springs) sung by Melinda Hughes, a delightful rather wistful song which was rather more character than comedy.
The first half ended with Lamentable Love, a group which started with Melinda Hughes in outrageous form with The Boy From ....., Mary Rogers and Stephen Sondheim's delightful sendup of The Boy from Ipanema. Nicky Spence then sang Lullaby by Tim Minchin, a song which starts out as a simple lullaby but gets progressively more and more unnerving. Finally the two singers gave us their tribute to Victoria Wood, with her duet Barry and Freda, a performance which really demonstrated how clever and how tricky Wood's songs are.
After the interval we had Delusional Devotion, with Nicky Spence singing Jeremy Nicholas's Valentine Card, in which Spence's attention to Nicholas's words paid dividends, and there were some lovely sly musical quotations from Nigel Foster in the piano accompaniment. Melissa Hughes then sang My Guru, another of her songs with Jeremy Limb. The words rather than the music made the song, full of astute observations about modern Chelsea types.
Womanly Wilds began with Victoria Wood's Pam. Nicky Spence was priceless (in a bad wig and man's suit) as a middle-aged woman rejecting sexual overtures for a cup of tea. Melinda Hughes was equally over the top, in a different way, in Mischa Spoliansky's I am a Vamp, describing someone I would not want to meet on a dark night. The group finished with Jason Robert Brown's bizarre but funny Surabaya Santa in which Kurt Weill's Surabaya Johnny is crossed with Santa Claus (!), and Nicky Spence in a wig as the alarming heroine, the neglected Mrs Claus.
The final group opened with Melinda Hughes singing the final of her songs with Jeremy Limb. Selfie had some nice observations about modern habits, but I was not quite sure that the words were as sharp as some of their other songs. Nicky Spence then sang Flanders and Swann's In the bath with his own distinctive brand of orotund charm. Finally we had the duet from Spamalot, a wonderfully crazy way to end the evening.
There was no planned encore, but the response from the capacity audience was such that Nicky Spence gave us his a cappella rendition of the Scots song The Wee Cooper of Fife, complete with actions and dance!
The problem with a programme of comic songs is that the comedy is often very much about the words. Which meant that both performers had a stupendous number of words to learn. Both did a heroic task but there were inevitable compromises, Victoria Wood's Barry and Freda and the song from Spamalot were done with a music stand, whilst Nicky Spence used a crib in one of his solos and there were one or two moments when Melinda Hughes failed to make the most of the text. However, there also plenty of superbly funny moments. Both singers have fine, yet very different, senses of comic timing and the result was a wonderfully engaging programme.