Leslie Bricusse is an 84-year-old British composer, lyricist and playwright with a songbook bursting with tunes that you’ll remember predominantly from musicals or films but not necessarily know he penned. Running at the St James Theatre until 17/10 (we saw the 30/9 matinee), this show features a cast of five singing some of his best-loved songs as characters in a series of scenes without a great deal of dialogue but some storyline. There’s much emotion on show and Goldfinger could be incongruous but is played for laughs in a segment paying tribute to this and his other Bond work. Writing’s On The Wall? Nowhere close.
2. Feeling Good
SPOILER ALERT: this X Factor staple and Muse cover closes this show in fine jazz style. Is that Lionel Blair monstagigz thinks it’s spotted absolutely loving the show in the front row behind Bricusse’s autograph written into the stage? Quite possibly.
3. The cast and crew
The five-strong cast (Julie Atherton, Siobhan McCarthy, Dave Willetts, Niall Sheehy and Giles Terera) are brilliant. It would be wrong to single just one of them out. But we will: Willetts, where have you been hiding? Heart and soul of this show. There’s no question that this is a difficult gig. The highlights of Bricusse’s songbook are connected with the most threadbare storyline and, clearly, this is where many such jukebox musicals have floundered. We’re thinking the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever. The five-strong band is also fantastic. The pre-interval London section is a crowd pleasing delight.
4. What Kind Of Fool Am I?
We’ll be honest, we know nothing about this song. But it’s the absolute showstopper. Terera is delightful as the joker teasing an older and younger couple. Bricusse’s lyrics are so good that even out of context of a film or a show they’re immediately able to reduce this matinee audience to contemplation, empathy, occasional tears and then rapturous applause. Sample lyric: ‘It seems that I’m the only one that I’ve been thinking of.’ Brilliant.
5. Talk To The Animals
If you hadn’t already guessed, title track Pure Imagination is from 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and another joy is this Rex Harrison-sung highlight from Dr Dolittle (1967). Sample lyric: ‘If people ask if I can talk rhinoceros, I’d say: ‘Of course-eros … If I was asked to sing in hippopotamus, I’d say: ‘Why not-amus!”
We weren’t expecting to have quite such a good time at Pure Imagination. The musical with the best tunes in town? Quite possibly.
- Tickets for Pure Imagination are available here.