Izzy Cutts reviews UCLU Jazz Soc’s voyage into the world of Burlesque
If there’s one good thing to come out of the closure of the Bloomsbury Theatre, it has got to be that our arts societies have got the chance to perform in some amazing West End theatres. Going to the Adelphi theatre to see UCLU Jazz society perform ‘Jazz After Midnight’ felt pretty cool, and they even managed to fill the audience (an impressive feat in such a big theatre). The famous theatre was easily overcome with the power of the large jazz band and vocalists, and was the perfect glamorous venue for a night of burlesque.
The jazz band was strong throughout with frequent impressive saxophone and drum solos. While it kicked off a bit shakily with a version of ‘The Stripper’ accompanied by dancers, the show really improved as it went along, and the final numbers were easily some of the best. I preferred numbers with the band, rather than those with the choir, as the choir was quite hard to hear positioned behind the band, and I think big band numbers are really what the society excels at.
Overall, I found the show to be lacking in energy and enthusiasm. Members of the band looked noticeably bored throughout the show, and many of the vocalists seemed uncomfortable on stage. It was clear that everyone was very nervous, and the never ending technical issues could not have helped, but in a show where there is little dance or movement I think it’s important that the people on stage look excited and most of all, happy. While there were lots of awkward transitions between numbers, these could have been easily improved by some transitional music or even voiceovers.
The show was held together by a compere (Olly Hare) telling a fictional narrative of the opening of his new burlesque club, and his love affair with the main star. While he was very committed to the narrative, the links between the songs and the themes felt quite strained. However, his rendition of ‘L-O-V-E’ was a welcome reprieve from the amateur dramatics. I struggled with many of the song choices; at times it felt more like a soul or big band night than jazz, and whilst that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it did not work with the theme, which could have been better utilised to tie in some of those elements. It would have been nice to use the dancers in more than the first number, and even include some more costume elements as the songs did not scream ‘burlesque’.
There were some particularly commendable individual performances, with Thomas Benoist’s rendition of Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’ among my favourites. Before he even opened his mouth I knew it was going to be great: his energy was infectious. It was only at this point that I thought the show really got going, followed by another stellar cover, Emily Craig gave a gut-busting performance of Natalie Cole’s ‘This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)’. I also loved the jazz cover of ‘All About that Bass’ sung by Lola Donohoe and accompanied by Pip Orchard on double bass who was grooving away throughout.
A burlesque jazz show at a West End theatre sounded very promising, and a great concept for the first ‘bloomsbury’ of the year, but that’s not really what we got. Apart from a handful of dancers in the first number and a very cringey narrative, it wasn’t really a burlesque show at all, which was disappointing. However, it was clear that a lot of hard work had gone into this show, and to make a show of that length with so many people involved is a great organisational achievement. There were some moments of real talent, but overall it was lacking in direction and energy.