Laugh and Be Happy: Peter Polycarpou’s retrospective of the songs of Randy Newman
If you don’t know who Randy Newman is, you haven’t been paying attention. He’s the songwriter responsible for Oscar, Grammy and Emmy award-winning tracks from films such as Monsters, Inc, Babe, Toy Story (1, 2 and 3), A Bug’s Life, and James and the Giant Peach. One-off show Laugh and Be Happy at the cabaret-style venue at the Hippodrome was veteran actor and singer Peter Polycarpou’s very personal tribute to Randy’s work.
Supported by a terrific band led by the brilliant and bare-footed musical director and pianist Rob Emery, the show told the story of Newman’s career and gave context to his work. Peter is a consummate professional and carried the show capably, moving easily from the role of narrator to singer, harmonica player to pianist, charming the audience with his easy, amicable style. But the show wasn’t all about Peter, as he had handpicked a backing company of music college students and he stressed the importance of offering opportunities for up-and-coming talent to shine. And shine they did – these were some confident, gifted young performers with impressive voices often tackling difficult songs effortlessly (notably 2nd year Arts Ed student Grace Chapman’s Life Has Been Good To Me) and exuding stage presence. Peter also had some West End guest star friends in the audience who took to the stage, including Clive Rowe (Kiss Me Kate) and Luke Brady (Sweeney Todd).
The show was let down in the first half by rogue radio mic problems which Peter smoothed over, winning back the audience easily, but this really was unfortunate, particularly for the exceptional Rob Houchen, whose rendition of My Name is James deserved better. Rob is an outstanding young actor certainly destined for West End success. And while the second half was programmed more neatly than the first, the evening didn’t quite tie together as a complete show well enough –brief excerpts where the company re-enacted interviews with Randy or introduced songs with anecdotes felt awkward, and perhaps it would have been preferable for Peter to remain the link between numbers. Some fluffing of lines along with the technical problems gave a slightly under-rehearsed impression, but again Peter’s obvious passion for the material and professionalism helped gloss over this to a degree.
Both the first and second halves kicked off with energetic full-company upbeat numbers (Glory Train and a superb arrangement of Mama Told Me Not To Come by Peter himself) – these were enjoyable West End show-stoppers in style with cracking harmonies and a real sense of fun. More pieces like this would have been welcome.
Every performer involved in the production was undeniably good and it was humbling to see the strength of the students involved, but as a complete show it needed tighter, more clever programming and certainly better technical support to do the talent justice.
Peter Polycarpou is currently appearing in Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi Theatre. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.