Review: Charlie’s Girls (Union Theatre)

A concert of musical theatre work by Charles Miller is what we have here, and if you haven’t come across Miller yet, you may be surprised by the number of catchy songs he has composed, while maintaining a long association with London School of Musical Theatre.

Performed by Melissa Jacques, Lucyelle Cliffe, and Emma Odell (surely, copyright issues aside, these could be Charlie’s ‘Angels’), directed by Fenton Gray, and accompanied on the piano by musical director Daniel Jarvis, Charlie’s Girls showcases numbers both comic and tragic, torch and sentimental.

The only previous work of Miller’s I have seen was Fanny and Stella, a collaboration with Glenn Chandler, using songs with a nod to the 19th century bawdy music hall.

They collaborated again more recently with The Pleasure Garden, which gives Odell “the silliest song I have ever sung”, “Why Not, Captain Antrobus” a plea from an oversexed aristocratic wife to a soldier she doesn’t know is masquerading as a man.

Elsewhere, Jacques comes into her own with act two’s “If You Were Mine,” a delightful and plaintive piece of unrequited love, while Cliffe shines in “Never Learned To Type” from When Midnight Strikes and in an unexpected duet “Find Me That Man” with a very lively Gray.

Miller’s music has a quality that shifts it out of time while remaining timeless. As a trio, the performers have fun in berating a lazy husband at one point while wishing for a soldier to return from war at another.

Watching each solo from a table set on the stage corner, they clearly support each other, and all have an admiration for the work of a man who has created musicals like Hope and Brenda Bly: Teen Detective (both with Kevin Hammond), as well as a musical inspired by 1973’s Hammer Horror chiller Theatre of Blood.

Although there were a few sound issues and false starts, this was an entertaining show to start off the evening (I attended at 5pm, the first of two on the same night). The influences feel both Great American Songbook and German/French, while a strong vocal range is required for most of the material.

I felt the lack of a song list, which would aid further exploration of this composer’s work, as well as some idea of his collaborators and timeline over the years. There were introductions, but these assumed some prior familiarity we may not necessarily have.

Charlie’s Girls, though, ultimately did their colleague proud, and Jarvis kept the show on the road even if it threatened to go off the course slightly. This was a cabaret that dusted off some fun pieces (one from Princess Phylydia’s Fortnight and “Bad Review Blues” from No One In The World).

Charlie’s Girls played at the Union Theatre for two performances on 27 Aug.


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