Reviews

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID:

‘WICKED LIPS’ REVIEWS:

Theatre Review by JACK TINKER - DAILY MAIL

Sending ‘em up Wicked

Wicked Lips, conceived by Richard Kates: Donmar Warehouse, London

INTIMATE revue died, so the theory goes, because it was performed by a coterie for a clique. Insider bitchery was its stock-in-trade. Parochial reputation-shredding was its game. Clearly, news of its death was grossly exaggerated. For the good tidings are that the genre is alive and well and kicking up quite a ruckus at the Donmar.

Better still, the very symptoms previously diagnosed as the kiss of death are life and breath to the four pairs of truly Wicked Lips which kiss goodbye to a clutch of sacred show business images.

Even given the off-Broadway success of the long-running Forbidden Broadway, I was a trifle sceptical, fearing a British-based formula might prove to be limp of wrist and slack on material. But no. This show has bite, wit and an instinct for the jugular, which combine the best (or possibly the worst) qualities of backstage gossip and stinging criticism.

Laments:

True, some of the targets are pretty predictable. Liza Minnelli, imprisoned forever in the clichés of her Cabaret - bowler, silk shorts and black stockings - laments the collapse of a once promising movie career, while a nun-like Julie Andrews trills a stream of silvery bile at her film director husband for taking her, too, down the long road to nowhere. Then bares her bottom.

A mummified Carol Channing totters through a travesty of her Dolly routine, while an eternally doll-like Bonnie Langford high kicks with clockwork precision.

But the real sting comes with the unexpected. In a brilliantly accurate parody of RSC earnestness, the tortured heroine of Les Miserables berates her agent for confining her to such a dull brief spot in such a dour downer show - when all she longs for is the lead in 42nd street.

Nor will Diane Langton’s distress at the closure of The Rink be assuaged any by the bravura lampoon hurled in her direction. The thrust of the attack is to play every scene out front. And what a front they give her. Back, too.

In naming the culprits I offer my thanks for one of the slickest pieces of impertinence it has been my pleasure to enjoy.

Talents:

They are Tim Burley, Buster Skeggs, Cheryl Taylor and the man responsible for devising the show and its lyrics, Richard Kates. Had their talents been unequal to their targets, the evening might have degenerated into jealous malice.

As it is, their gifts of mimicry are more than equalled by a range of fine voices. Crueller than the most vicious gossip column, my worry is that such shows may render critics redundant, too.

WICKED LIPS - Laurence Phillips - WHAT'S ON

Oh wicked, wicked, wicked, WICKED LIPS! And welcome, welcome too! This is the show that Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t want us to see. Tee hee. We can! We can! We can! Excuse my malicious glee, but the show gets to you that way. Last time we critics were invited to the Donmar, we were turned away on opening night, because the performance was banned owing to copyright and similar difficulties. You’ll soon see why.

It lampoons, sends up, satirises and takes the pastiche out of loads of showbiz stars, and West End shows. And in doing so seems to make Spitting Image seem like Song of Bernadette. So we have Julie Andrews slagging off her hubby Blake Edwards, Georgia Brown bemoaning her increasing resemblance to Al Jolson, Glenda Jackson mouthing off in general, Bonnie Langford on her techniques of cute, Ron Moody trying to escape from the part of Fagin, Liza Minnelli ditto from Cabaret. Oh and Danny La Rue, Tommy Steele, Stephanie Lawrence, Elaine Paige, the entire company of Les Miserables and more - all played by the talented quartet of Buster Skeggs, Tim Burley, Cheryl Taylor and the writer/conceiver/performer Richard Kates.

It is bitchy, witty, cruel, savage and hugely, hugely entertaining. Well wicked!

WICKED LIPS - The Stage

Nicolas Davies on brilliant backstage bitchiness at the Donmar Warehouse

A sharp satire of everything you wanted to know about the West End but were afraid to ask, Wicked Lips will delight all those who either love or hate the blockbusting musical show.

In a series of spectacular sketches, the Wicked Lips company of Richard Kates, Tim Burley, Cheryl Taylor and Buster Skeggs don a variety of disguises and, by changing the lyrics of those well-loved showbiz tunes, proceed to demolish the reputation of composers, producers, agents, stars and chorus girls alike.

As well as the to-be-expected jibes at Liza Minnelli, Tommy Steele and Sarah Brightman, there are dark hints about the sources of Lloyd Webber’s inspiration and a fine character study of a grasping agent who, un-mistakenly ‘fiddling on the roof’, tries to justify his hefty commission.

Other highlights were the producers’ duet - ‘Any show you can stage I can stage cheaper’, and Tim Burley’s masterly impersonation of Glenda Jackson, who comes across as a butch and well bred Hilda Ogden.

Cheryl Taylor is also superb as a squeaky, high kicking Bonnie Langford, a bitter Julie Andrews - berating her director husband for the decline of a once promising career, and an un-name bimbo, hamming her way through a performance of Ziegfeld.

Wicked Lips, with its starting time of 11.15p.m. and air of back stage bitchiness is obviously aimed at a select audience -either those whose lives depend on the theatre or those who are fatally attracted to it. For like all the best gossip, the show demands an intimate knowledge of its victims.

But although Wicked Lips will be occasionally frustrating for those who’ve never been to Oklahoma or South Pacific, there are enough household names lampooned - and in such style, to satisfy even the most ignorant theatregoer.

Richard Kates deserves applause not only for the shows lyrics but for his perseverance in overcoming the copyright restrictions which scuppered plans to run Wicked Lips in 1984.

WICKED LIPS, Boulevard Theatre, Walkers Court, W1

So good that it’s wicked!

It’s back, revised, with a couple of new numbers, two new members of cast, and a shorter format: the show that savages every other musical in town. Glenda Jackson and Danny La Rue. Sarah Brightman and Bonnie Langford. If you liked Forbidden Broadway, you’ll love this. But be warned- this is better!

WICKED LIPS - LONDON LIFE

Once again theatregoers will have the chance of seeing Wicked Lips, with its return to the west End in late-night cabaret. It plays at The Boulevard Theatre every Friday & Saturday at 10.45p.m.

Originally banned by Andrew Lloyd Webber when they first appeared at The Donmar Warehouse due to copyright infringement. Richard Kates and company have gone from strength to strength with their sharp-witted satire. Victims include Elaine Paige, Danny La Rue, Bonnie Langford, Tommy Steele, Glenda Jackson and Julie Andrews. Joining Richard Kates and Tim Burley this time are Pauline Hannah and Tracie Hart. For people who love musicals, theatre gossip and real, real talent - this is a chance not to be missed.

WICKED LIPS - Laurence Phillips - ABOUT TOWN

This is an unmissable treat for all who know London Theatre. Bitchy, savage, brilliant impersonations. Songs and parodies of every star and every show.

Lloyd Webber, Tommy Steele, Glenda Jackson, Carol Channing, all ruthlessly dissected by a first class cast. Headed by writer Richard Kates. Limited season

AMONG FRIENDS - Mike Gibb - MASQUERADE

Everyone likes to be in on the ground floor, to be the first with the news. It is always nice to ‘find’ some new talent that goes on to become a star. Well I am pinning my particular colours onto a certain Richard Kates whom I firmly believe will go on to become one of the leading lights of the British musical scene over the course of the next decade.

Richard Kates’ first steps onto the stage were taken at Oldham Rep in shows like The Fantastics before doing national tours of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. In the years that followed he appeared in such diverse pieces as The Rocky Horror Show, Joseph, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (opposite Frankie Howerd), The Beggars Opera and Cabaret. He also appeared on television and in the movie Absolution with Richard Burton. Not a bad pedigree. But it is as a writer of show music, rather than a performer that I believe Richard Kates will make his mark.

He already has a hit West End revue to his credit - Wicked Lips. A sort of U.K. answer to off- Broadway’s ‘Forbidden Broadway’. The show took up residency at London’s Donmar Warehouse where it stayed for two highly acclaimed seasons.

A one-woman show for Su Pollard, A Song, A Frock And A Tinkle! Followed at The Donmar, before heading out on a national tour.

His name came to an even wider audience when a Richard Kates composition - To Win An Award - opened the 1988 Laurence Olivier Awards.

Since that time, Richard has been completing two musicals - Tallulah Darling! and Snakes & Ladders.

While we may still have to wait some time to hear such scores, we can enjoy the writing talent of Richard Kates to the full through the medium of a new CD entitled Among Friends.

The original idea of this project was to get several of the writers own leading ladies to record a selection of his songs. He was most pleasantly surprised when everyone he approached was delighted to take part, and before he knew it, he had enlisted the services of Claire Moore, Jacqueline Dankworth, Bonnie Langford, Diane Langton, Stephanie Lawrence and numerous other stars of the British musical stage.

And so Among Friends began to take shape, spurred on by the enthusiasm of Richard, who believed so strongly about the project that he self financed the recording, and released it on his own label.

But please don’t get the idea that this is some cheap and nasty recording. Nothing could be further from the truth. The quality of the full-blooded accompaniments and arrangements are quite superb, and are the work of one Andy Spiller. Besides acting as co-producer, arranger and engineer, Mr Spiller provides all musical accompaniment, thanks to his mastery of the synthesiser. And the highest compliment I can pay him and his work, is that seldom do any of the diverse musical sounds, sound as if they are feats of electronic wizardry.

And so the question must be, “is Mr Kates worthy of all this attention?” The answer, on the strength of Among Friends, is an unequivocal yes. Richard Kates produces samples of his skill as a songwriter that shows that he can not only write witty material, but he can just as easily turn his hand to memorable ballads.

The album is nicely ‘topped and tailed’ by the writer who provides two alternate versions of the title song. The first solo, the second with the assistance of his ‘friends’. Between these musical bookends are a dozen songs, sung by a dozen different artists, with two things in common - all are female, and all are talented.

Highlights can be pigeonholed into two categories - the serious and the fun songs. All my particular favourites fall into the former category, which say more about my taste than the capability of the writer. Different Dreams is a lovely poignant ballad made more memorable by the treatment of the seemingly ubiquitous Claire Moore, while Anyone But You, entrusted to Jessica Martin, gives Richard the chance to show that he not only writes a pretty tune, but is no mean hand as a lyricist - “ the constant ache, which I am left alone to bear, the fights without you there. The wondrous heights of wondrous nights that we no longer share”. Sing A Song For Europe, would provide the EEC with a wonderful anthem - a big ballad, sung with gusto and feeling by Mary Carewe.

There are so many examples of Kates’ craft as a writer of humorous songs, that it is difficult to pick only a couple of examples, but it would be remiss not to mention Streisand Got There First! Where Stephanie Lawrence bemoans the fact that every time she finds a good song, she discovers that Ms. Streisand has already recorded it. Between Kates and Spiller, dozens of titles are fitted into the 3.36 minutes, either by lyrical mention or musical motif. Very clever indeed.

Fenella Fielding, sounding like Fenella Fielding, gives us, in best lisping fashion, I Could Never Keep The Man - “I kept the golf course in sunny Spain, and once my fear of flying went, I kept the plane. I even kept those handcuffs and the bamboo cane. But I could never keep the man!”

Perhaps the highlight of a set of songs, full of highlights, would be an eight-minute plus epic entitles Claudine The Cruel - handled with a sophistication and panache that I have never heard Bonnie Langford display on record before.

It’s a marvellous tale of a young lady who enjoys marrying and poisoning - with mushroom stew - elderly, and of course wealthy husbands. She eventually gets her just rewards…or does she? But this recording and find out for yourself.

So if, like me, you had began to think that this country was no longer producing quality writers of stage music, then lend an ear to Richard Kates.

Among Friends will restore your faith.

AMONG FRIENDS - Lee Stevens CD Choice - BOYZ

What a find?! An album of 12 top musical stars performing the compositions of this talented man. Every song is different, and Richard Kates can be compared to Cole Porter for wit, a Stephen Sondheim for dramatic intensity and Jerry Herman for melodic format. All the girls (including Stephanie Lawrence, Fenella Fielding, Lynda Baron and Su Pollard) give 100%, making this the best show album around today.

AMONG FRIENDS & DARE TO BE GREAT - Musical Stages

Spotlight on a new writer/composer by Nick Davies

As I sat down to listen to these CDs, I became almost immediately enthralled by the quality, freshness and the broad variety of musical styles used so cleverly by Richard Kates.

Among Friends displays ideal casting of singer to song. Each song is funny, memorable and moving. Richard clearly understands the combination of good lyric writing with melodic lines that hit home in all the right places. Music is an emotional experience that should be felt naturally and accessibly. Richard’s music fits these criteria. If this isn’t enough, add the talents of Stephanie Lawrence, Claire Moore, Lynda Baron, Fenella Fielding, Mary Carewe, Caroline O’Connor, Jessica Martin, Diane Langton, Paulette Ivory, Su Pollard, Jacqueline Dankworth and Bonnie Langford then sit back and enjoy listening as much as the singers have obviously enjoyed performing.

Dare To Be Great features Richard singing his own material, which enhances our picture of the overall talent and gives us a flavour of his personality and humour. I only wonder how much things would be improved with the accompaniment of an orchestra. However don’t wait for this to happen. Just go out and buy these, enjoy them in their original state, and then perhaps we’ll all enjoy more of Richard and his song writing in the future.

It is often asked who will be the next Andrew Lloyd Webber. Well I hope that Richard Kates is given the financial backing so that this talent can reach a greater audience and fill that still vacant position.

DARE TO BE GREAT! - Helen Slatterly - On Show

BEFORE the self confessed ‘experts’ once again complain that there are no new up and coming writers of musical theatre, I suggest they lend an ear to Richard Kates. His first album Among Friends. I thought sensational, (with an intelligence of lyric one could easily compare to Sondheim) and Dare To Be Great does nothing to dispel my original opinion of his talent, although this time there is the added bonus of having him perform his own songs.

He doesn’t let up for a second - taking you on a roller coaster ride of musical songs, from the hauntingly painful ‘When I Gaze Into A Mirror’ through the brilliantly clever ‘I’ve Never Been In A Show By Andrew Lloyd Webber’ to the hilarious ‘Masturbation Tango’ and ‘Helen Keller Rag’, which had me literally clutching my sides with laughter. (Try those two out on your gran).

Ballads, show-stoppers, comedy point numbers - he can write them all, and better than most. I could go on and on, but don’t take my word for it. Go out and buy a copy, and judge for yourself.

"A brilliant 5 star album. Highly recommended!"

*****(Five stars) Helen Slatterly

DARE TO BE GREAT - Mike Gibb - Masquerade. Issue 34

If you have stuck with Masquerade since the beginning, you may remember a review of an excellent album of songs by singer/ composer, Richard Kates, entitled Among Friends. Well, if like me, you valued the writing skills of Mr Kates, you will be delighted to learn that a new album, featuring another thirteen of his songs has just been released under the title Dare To Be Great!

If you know the work of Richard Kates, then you will know what to expect. If not, be warned, for Mr Kates and political correctness are not the best of friends - listen to his song about Helen Keller - The Helen Keller Rag -and you will soon see what I mean!

While this album does contain a sprinkling of ballads - and some nice ones at that - the real meat is in the witty, and at times outrageous work, in the best Noel Coward tradition.

Several of the songs are taken from Richard’s own musicals. DICK WHITTINGTON -(Dare To Be Great, Doesn’t Anyone Remember. MAE I? - It’s What I Understand. SNAKES & LADDERS - With Me In my Heart. TALLULAH, DARLING! - The Helen Keller Rag, No More Mr Nice Guy - and, oh, a tango about a habit that causes blindness! Did I mention that this album was not the ideal gift for a maiden aunt?

My own favourites are Oh So Sad About The Girl - a tale of a young lady that couldn’t stop eating and who eventually got lost at sea - “She’s not been found although they’ve searched the seas from Greece to Thailand. There is a rumour that she’s set herself up as an island!” and I’ve Never Been In A Show By Andrew Lloyd Webber (which is actually not true of Mr Kates) which is full of references, lyrical and musical to ALW songs and shows. “I’m like nothing that you’ve ever known, and I’ve never liked Patti LuPone!” Great stuff.

Dare To Be Great is a very professional recording, well sung by the composer himself, and can be found on MPGCD 002