St James Studio, London
It says much for the esteem in which John Bucchino is held, that on one of the first beautifully sunny days of London's summer, he was able to virtually pack out the chic (and thankfully air-conditioned) underground venue of the St James Studio, for the first of his two-gigs-in-one-day appearances.
Here in the UK, outside of the showbiz community, only few have heard of Bucchino and that's a shame. The man has a wryly perceptive take on life clearly demonstrated in Phoebe Coupe singing When You're Here, about a relationship that's foundering and it is impossible not to be bowled over by the brilliance of Bucchino's line " it's hard to know where to go next, When there's so much more subtext than text". Coupe practically pouted her way through the song, with a perfect presence and grounding, enabling her to explore the songs sardonic humour with an understated wit, that both left the audience feeling pleasantly un-patronised and also demonstrated an actress who clearly knew her song intimately and was totally at ease with its lyrics.
For a set list of some 20 songs, Bucchino had invited a surprising total of 10 Friends to take the stage to tackle different numbers. Such was the frequency of the changes in singers that the show often felt like a scaled down X Factor, albeit one with rigorously trained performers rather than publicity seeking manufactured wannabes. Producers take note though as herein lies a massive risk: It is human nature to compare and contrast; so when an uber-talented man like John Barr raises or sets “the bar”, he becomes an extremely tough act to follow. Christian Lund’s take on Unexpressed, unimpressed in contrast as he neutered the song of the full richness of its dramatic potential, whilst Belinda Wollaston, another Aussie new in town, sang the heart-rending Temporary beautifully but with a curious stage presence, staring fixedly at the audience that became a distraction from the song’s impact. 10 guests for 20 songs is too many and at this gig, less would definitely have been more.
The afternoon's star turns were Barr, whose If I Say I'm Over You, reduced him together with some of the audience to tears and the accomplished Sophia Ragavelas. Her diminutive frame belying a voice of remarkable power and wit as she scaled the challenges of two numbers from Bucchino's Broadway musical, A Catered Affair. Amelia Cormack shone too, proving herself to be a dab hand on the fiddle.
John Bucchino is a gifted man, who on the handful of occasions when he sang his own numbers, showed himself as a relaxed and confident performer happy to share some profoundly personal moments from his life and establish a fabulous rapport with the room. But a venue as smart as St James demands an act that is as thoroughly polished as the postcode. Skye Crawford and Hilary Elk have done a grand job producing the show, but if they had taken a little more care over the quality rather than the quantity of the singers, what was nonetheless a delightful afternoon, might just have been perfect.