The Pheasantry, London
There was much anticipation ahead of New York composer Rob Rokicki’s one night cabaret in Chelsea’s Pheasantry. Rokicki’s songs offer a refreshing alternative to much of the balladry offered up in new writing. His musical The Lightning Thief is currently running two separate tours in the USA before an off-Broadway run next year and he has another album shortly to be released, imaginatively themed around songs about monsters of popular mythology.
It therefore proved a disappointment to find the gig’s sound levels aligned to the needs of the Palladium rather than the more intimate requirements of a Kings Road pizza parlour. When Rokicki accompanied his (uniformly excellent) singers, or himself, on guitar or piano, the sound balance worked, just. But when his four supporting musicians on drums, bass, violin and guitar joined in, (who to be fair were equally as talented individuals), voices were lost in the din. Singers frequently had to belt solely to make themselves heard, making for a too frustrating evening, with much of the wit of Rokicki’s lyrics proving inaudible.
That being said, there were moments of exquisite vocal performance that shone out brilliantly (and, invariably, before the band kicked in). Emily Lynne and Sinead Wall had a chance to have their inspired acting through song shine in Casting Call For A “Best Friend” and similarly Helen Woolf impressed with her treatment of a witch in Hell Hath No Fury. Perhaps the most gorgeous number of the night was Torch Song sung by Charlotte Jaconelli. The song is resolutely tongue in cheek, satirising the biggest musicals’ biggest numbers with Jaconelli nailing the song’s comic nuance. The song’s joint greatest strength was perhaps not just the singer’s excellence, but also the fact that the band sat that one out, with accompaniment only coming from Rokicki on piano.
The New Yorker spoiled his audience with the riches of his assembled cast (even if we couldn't always hear the 5* musical theatre talent on offer). Amanda Flynn, aka Mrs Rokicki, was an impressive American import on the night, likewise singer and fellow composer Tony Greenlaw added a classy contribution. Lynne had been the driving force behind the gig and it was pleasing to see her She Loves Me cast connections reaching out to include Joshua LeClair too. In a powerhouse of energy Book Of Mormon’s Tyrone Huntley closed the first half – whilst after the break, violinist Amy Davis stepped down from her fiddle to offer up a gorgeous take on the song Lead Singer, at least until the band drowned her out.
When Rokicki returns to London – and he should – if he’s to play an intimate cabaret venue then piano or acoustic guitar is just fine. One suspects his songs are wonderful, they just need to be heard.