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Credit: Jamie Scott-Smith
Credit: Jamie Scott-Smith

Picture Perfect, St James Theatre – Review

Pros: A tight cast, whose members sing beautifully together.

Cons: Not enough emotional depth.

Pros: A tight cast, whose members sing beautifully together. Cons: Not enough emotional depth. Down in St James Theatre's studio basement, decorated like a swanky London club with a smart bar, uncomfortable chairs and everything painted black, a little musical takes place for four performances only. It is Picture Perfect, a new song cycle by Scott Evan Davis, that looks at family life and the everyday conflicts of growing up, growing old and falling in love. Josh is graduating college, his parents are going through a split because of his father’s affair and Ellie is trying to work out…

Summary

rating

Good

A schmaltzy song cycle with heartwarming highs that will leave you feeling fuzzy.

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Down in St James Theatre’s studio basement, decorated like a swanky London club with a smart bar, uncomfortable chairs and everything painted black, a little musical takes place for four performances only. It is Picture Perfect, a new song cycle by Scott Evan Davis, that looks at family life and the everyday conflicts of growing up, growing old and falling in love. Josh is graduating college, his parents are going through a split because of his father’s affair and Ellie is trying to work out if she should stick with her relationship.

Despite the simplicity of the setup — only piano and cello accompany (under Colin Billing’s musical direction) and only a white sofa sits on the stage — the music itself is complex, refusing to stay in one key for more than a few seconds. It gives some tricky melodies for the singers to hold onto, but the cast handle it well, particularly Charlotte Wakefield as Ellie who brings tenderness to her quiet moments and absolutely belts the high notes with might and passion. Jérôme Pradon as Harry is similarly expressive and emotive, giving some of his songs real gusto and brilliantly conveying the flustered conflict of a man choosing between his wife and his mistress. Joel Harper-Jackson plays college graduand Josh with a shyness that is endearing, but veers occasionally into a lack of emotion. He works very well with the rest of the ensemble, and when the quartet sing together they sound excellent.

The song cycle format, the soaring melodies, the earthy wit combined with grand, soul-searching statements: these are all very reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown. But the songs, despite the complex music, do not scrape beneath the surface in the way that Robert Brown does. Picture Perfect is heavy on the schmaltz — Josh sings a letter he wrote to Santa as a 7 year old, and Ellie’s song He’s Perfect begins “As a girl I had always imagined that a prince would find his way to me”. From this perspective, it is heavily Disney-inspired. But then songs like Everyone Has A Vice is an old-style showtune, with the characters singing about smoking weed, getting into debt and sleeping around. This is a rare moment of bite in an otherwise sugary musical.

Although the lyrics are cliché heavy (“Side by side, mommy take my hand/ side by side, easy stride, you help me understand”), clichés are clichés because they contain some element of truth and, more often that not, the songs strike a chord. They tend to build to a cockle-warming climactic moment that hits at the heart of love – love between girlfriends and boyfriends, between family members, between husbands and wives. Love is never picture perfect, and nor is this musical, but it will make you feel fuzzy in the right places.

Composer: Scott Evan Davis
Director: Simon Greiff
Musical Director: Colin Billing
Booking Until: This show has now completed its run   .

About Tim Bano

Tim Bano
Tim likes to spend his evenings sitting in silence in dark rooms. Sometimes there’s a play going on in front of him. He has no career to speak of and no money. To avoid contemplating these facts he watches plays and reviews them. It doesn’t help. He has no strong preferences when it comes to theatre, but he tends to like shows that are good more than ones that aren’t.