Friday 26 February 2016

Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Song in the City celebrates LGBT History Month

Girls who like girls who like boys who like boys; Anna Pool, Emily Onsloe, erika Gundesen; Song in the City at St Botolph without Bishopsgate Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2016
The last in the LGBT History Month series looks at musical theatre from a woman's point of view

Song in the City's lunchtime recital on Thursday 25 February 2015, in St Botolph without Bishopsgate's hall, was part of their series Somewhere over the Rainbow celebrating LGBT History Month 2016. For this recital artistic director Gavin Roberts took a back seat, and director Anna Pool was joined by soprano Emily Onsloe and pianist Erika Gundesen for the programme Girls who like Girls who like Boys who like Boys with songs by Andrew Lippa (from The Wild Party), Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron (from Fun Home), Brenda Russell, Allee Willis & Stephen Barry (from The Colour Purple), Leonard Bernstein (from West Side Story), William Finn (from Falsettos), Janet Hood (from Elegies for Angles, Punks and Raging Queens), Jason Robert Brown (from Songs for New World), and Jonathan Larson (from Rent).

There were intended to be three singers, but Joanne Evans was ill, so Emily Onsloe and Anna Pool divided the programme between them (with pianist Erika Gundesen helping out at one point) so that we only lost one song (Mischa Spoliansky's Es liegt in der Luft).

The programme was intended to look at lesbians in musical theatre, but there are relatively few such roles written (Fun Home based on Alison Bechdel's novel being a notable exception), so the programme creatively re-imagined a number of standards as well as bringing in songs about homosexuality from a woman's perspective.

We opened with A Good Old-Fashioned Love Story (sung by Anna Pool) from Andrew Lippa's 1999 musical The Wild Party. The song was about a woman on the prowl for a lover at a party, with little success. It was a good old-fashioned cabaret number and very funny. Pool then sang Changing my major, with a real change of mood. The song comes from Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron 2013 musical Fun Home and the song depicts a young woman the night after a significant encounter. It is a very verbal song, and very touching.

A big bluesy ballad followed, sung by Anna Pool and Emily Onsloe; What about Love from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray's 2005 musical The Colour Purple based on Alice Walker's 1982 novel. Emily Onsloe followed this with a subtle account of Maria from Bernstein's West Side Story. Then Anna Pool sang another song from The Colour Purple, the low key yet bluesy Too Beautiful for Words..

The next group were all about women discovering that a significant other was gay. Days and Days, movingly sung by Emily Onslow, was a touching song from Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's Fun Home in which a woman confesses to her daughter the unfulfilling marriage with a man who likes men. Breaking Down (from William Finn's Falsettos) was in a similar vein; a big show-biz number sung by Alison Pool about a woman discovering her husband likes men. Janet Hood's My brother lived in San Francisco (from the 1989 song cycle Elegies for Angels, Punks,  and Raging Queens), sung by Anna Pool, was a quietly lyrical ballad about woman whose brother was gay.

The duet I'd give it all for you from Jason Robert Brown's 1995 show Songs for a New World saw pianist Erika Gundesen gamely stepping up to duet with Emily Onsloe in a powerful duet about two people finding they are better together than apart. Finally Pool and Onsloe sang Take Me of Leave Me, a big rock-style number from Jonathan Larson's 1996 musical Rent.

This was a striking programme, brilliantly presented despite the difficulties, and it highlighted how far musical theatre has still to travel when it comes to depicting the experiences of gay women on stage. This was the last of Song in the City's Over the Rainbow series celebrating LGBT History Monthe (let us hope that it returns for February 2017!). On Thursday 3 March the group moves to Portugal with  Cnatigas & Saudade: A celebration of Portuguese and Brazilian song.
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