Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's recent review of Sleuth
Peterson starts the show with Anthony Newley's childhood and continues chronologically throughout the star's career. I count myself as a big fan of Anthony Newley, especially of his work on two 1960s musicals, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, but it is good to learn that Newley had a whole career in films before he ever started writing and performing on the musical stage. Peterson peppers the show with funny tidbits from the star's life, including tales about his parents and close friends, and, most especially, his many girlfriends and wives.
But He Wrote Good Songs is not just juicy gossip and Hollywood scandals (of which there are some). Peterson, as both writer and actor, shows a great affection and admiration for Anthony Newley, and that warmth of feeling infuses the entire show. It is also very effective that He Wrote Good Songs contains so many in Newley's prolific collection of songs. Highlights include such lovely and inspired songs as "Pure Imagination," "On a Wonderful Day Like Today," and "Who Can I Turn To" (which joyously stops the show in the first act). Pointedly, all three of these songs were co-written by Leslie Bricusse, who remained one of Newley's most devoted friends and collaborators.
Perhaps the biggest triumph in this musical is the performance of Jon Peterson. He manages to get the mannerisms and walk of the star down perfectly and, as mentioned, when he hits those high notes, it is almost eerie how much he sounds like Anthony Newley. Peterson not only plays Newley, but also all the people in Newley's life, from his parents to such figures as David Merrick and Joan Collins (who was one of the star's wives), and it all works flawlessly.
He Wrote Good Songs is, by turns, enthralling and deeply touching, and it is guided wonderfully by director Semina De Laurentis, with major contributions from her set designer Daniel Husvar and lighting designer Scott Cally. The collaboration between director De Laurentis and actor/writer Peterson is so seamless that He Wrote Good Songs flows effortlessly from beginning to end. Significantly, the show ends with the performance of one of Anthony Newley's biggest hits, "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Under a single spotlight, Jon Peterson performs the song, channeling the spirit of Newley uncannily. The effect is utterly magical and, happily, He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels Theatre is filled with such moments.
For lovers of Anthony Newley, as well as admirers of musical theatre, He Wrote Good Songs can most certainly be counted as something of a must see.
He Wrote Good Songs continues performances at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT through November 27, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.sevenangelstheatre.org or call the box office at 203-757-4676.