Ok, I’ll come clean (and this is hard, not to say shameful, for a musical theatre aficionado): Andrew Lippa had somehow passed me by; until now – until yesterday, to be precise. Don’t ask how come I never saw, or at least heard, The Addams Family? I did get to The Wild Party but clearly the wrong one (apologies Michael John LaChiusa) and I’m not going to make Big Fish, well not on Broadway, anyway. But then again what better way to make a composer’s acquaintance, to see if his stuff really speaks to your head and your heart, than to go in cold, as it were, and have the man himself showcase his wares. I went in cold, I came out a little overheated.
It helps that the man himself is such an out and out showman, that he plays and sings with such easy conviction, that his repartee is so smart and spontaneous and, yes, funny. “I’m Andrew Lippa, but for anyone way at the back who thinks I’m Hugh Jackman, thank you.” Of course, the irony of that is that the “spread” on the upper register of his voice is a dead ringer for Jackman and, of course, that he’s cute enough to make the joke in the first place. Being born in Leeds (yes, really), being gay, and being Jewish reminds me of Posner’s line in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, the clincher being “I’m fucked”. But Lippa is far from being so – well, not in that sense anyway – though in introducing “I Am Here” from his concert piece for the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Francisco I Am Harvey Milk he reminded us that he would normally be singing it with 300 gay men behind him and that just saying it gave him great pleasure.
So to the songs, evolving as so many of them do from a kind of Lippa vamp or ostinato (Sondheim reels us into his confidence in much the same way). His songs have that wonderful quality of thoughts, feelings, and spoken words raised high in melodies as seemingly spontaneous as he is, melodies that seemingly sing themselves (though we know, of course, know better). The conviction of those melodies is so palpable, so big hearted, that it makes a song like “Stranger” from Big Fish really hit the spot in expressing the incredibly hard to express. Small wonder Jenna Russell, who’s stock in trade is doing just that, rose so movingly to the most unlikely of love songs “I Don’t Need a Roof” from the same show. Dare I hope that it will make it here at some point?
The point is that I liked so many of the songs that it was suddenly as if I’d known them all along. Of the other numbers that I “took home” two of them were ennobled by barnstorming performances: Willemijn Verkaik raised “Raise the Roof” from The Wild Party to the sassiest vocal heights wielding the jazz trumpet of her voice like a weapon of mass destruction and big-voiced newcomer Carrie Hope Fletcher (the current Eponine in Les Mis) lent heart as well as cynicism to “Pulled” from The Addams Family. “You Are Here” (from I Am Harvey Milk) is a brilliant lyric and the muso in me was intrigued and thrilled by the four part harmony of “Poor Child” from The Wild Party I didn’t but should’ve seen. What a number.
At the close Lippa simply offered his raison d’etre in a song from The Man in the Ceiling as simple as it was profound: “I Do What I Do”. And how well he does it. Now the shows, please, somebody – here in London.