Just like Songs For a New World, which I saw a month earlier at the same venue, You Won't Succeed on Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews at St. James Theatre in London's Victoria is more of a revue rather than a traditional musical. Though instead of focusing on the songs of one composer, in this case we travelled through musical theatre history as we hopped from one famous musician to the next.
I can't say I've ever consciously considered the background of the composing greats, but after an evening listening to classic show tunes all by the hands of Jewish musicians I've come to realise that yes, there probably wouldn't be a Broadway as we know it today if if weren't for their extraordinary contributions. From the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin, right down to Alan Menken, Jonathan Larson and Pasek & Paul, songs from each of these iconic names were performed during the evening with incredible gusto by the cast of 12.
Our journey started with a voice-over and a brief animated recap on a screen above the stage as we entered the start of the swinging Broadway era in the 1930s, which was followed by live performances from some of the biggest musicals of that decade. The voice would then introduce the 1940s with suitable animations and so forth and so on, until we made it to the 21st century as the grand finale in the second act. I'm personally much more a fan of the more recent show tunes but even so the versatile performances were incredible to watch, as the main cast seemingly effortlessly moved from one musical style to another.
Particular highlights included Sophie Evans' spine-tingling rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, a show she performed in in the West End when she was just 17-years-old; John Barr's vivacious turn as Lumiere in Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast, which was such contagious fun that the audience was merrily clapping along; the hilarious Four Jews in a Room from March of the Falsettos sung by David Albury, Danny Lane, Alex Marshall and Yiftach Mizrahi, which I'd never heard of before but I now really want to see in full; and the completely cheesy but still super fun Fame, again performed by Sophie Evans, who was a real stand-out that night. Irene Cara is a tough act to follow but Sophie's rendition made it seem effortless.
Incredible vocal performances aside, You Won't Succeed on Broadway if You Don't Have Any Jews did look clunky and lacking at times. True, there had only been two preview performances before press night but it felt like the show wasn't ready yet. Most jarring were some of the more elaborate dance performances, which were painfully out of sync, and the sound of dancing feet and moving chairs during the more quiet performances. Both of these issues really distracted from the singers and I felt that if they would've stripped the show down even further and just have the singers on stage performing the songs, without a crew of dancers around them or any moveable set pieces, that it would've looked much more polished and impressive.
Nonetheless, for a musical theatre geek such as myself, You Won't Succeed on Broadway if You Don't Have Any Jews was not only a highly entertaining but also an educational evening at the theatre. The animated sequences that introduced each decade provided a wealth of interesting facts while cleverly linking the different decades and performances together. Though the overall appearance of the show wasn't yet as tight as it could be on the night we attended, the main attraction were the vocal performances and they were unanimously impressive; from the golden age to the modern age, this revue of toe-tapping show tunes proved that without Jews there most likely wouldn't be a Broadway as we know and love it today.
You Won't Succeed on Broadway if You Don't Have Any Jews is running at St James Theatre until 5 September 2015. You can book tickets here.