What is What's It All About? all about? It's about a lot of great songs, played back-to-back (and sometimes simultaneously), to bring the work of one of the greatest-ever pop songsmiths to a pulsing, pulsating new life. Its one of musical theatre's great regrets that Burt Bacharach only ever wrote one original Broadway musical — Promises, Promises, that premiered in 1968 and ran for over three years — but now, by way of off-Broadway where this revue was premiered in 2012, there is at last another show that celebrates and showcases his utterly unique talent as a composer of pop songs.
This is a concept concert celebration of the work that doesn't provide a context or narrative about his life (as Beautiful or Jersey Boys, for instance, currently do both in the West End and on Broadway for Carole King and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons respectively). Instead, each song is a delicate vignette; a moment of feeling and storytelling in bite size chunks.
And they're given a stunning theatrical expression under the direction of Steven Hoggett, the British choreographer of such Broadway shows as Once and American Idiot that also, not without coincidence, draw on scores that have their basis in pop. Hoggett makes the songs both move and moving. While your ears are being gently seduced by these familiar melodies, albeit heard in reinvented new orchestrations that make them sound at once timeless and contemporary, your eyes are being taken by the organic movement unfolding before you of the cast of 7 actor-musicians.
They play, sing and move, all at once; even the keyboards are situated on a floating platform that moves around the stage. Strings are more naturally mobile; but here the drums are as well.
Singer-guitarist Kyle Riabko, who co-conceived the show and is both the arranger and music director as well as principal singer, is just 27 years old, with boy band good looks, but an evangelic zeal for bringing Bacharach's music to a new generation. He's spent the last five years pushing this show through various stages of development to its current state.
And it's been worth the effort for the effortless-seeming entertainment that has resulted, beautifully executed by a company that also includes Daniel Bailen and James Williams from the original off-Broadway cast newly joined by players from Britain, Ireland and the US.
I loved it so much that I've already booked - and paid - to see it again. There are few shows that have me racing to re-book this fast. I suspect I'm going to be a regular visitor over the next few months.
"If only this back-to-back Bacharach fest was given more chance to dig deeper, it might raise the roof. As it is, it resembles a deluxe species of theatrical wall-paper, ornamented for one night only by the unforgettable appearance of a man whose music will live on long after all of us."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"This is no routine jukebox musical but a genuine reappraisal of the venerable Burt."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"We repeatedly feel the joy, tenderness and melancholy of Bacharach’s art and are treated to an exhibition of skilful musicianship."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard