Presented by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed Fri 25th June 2010
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Hugh Sheridan’s performance opens with a brief section of a recording of Anthony Newley singing What Kind of Fool Am I, one of his biggest hits, and then the band takes over as the recording cuts out and Sheridan steps into a pool of light to continue the song, becoming Newley at the end of his life, looking back, recounting his career, personal triumphs, failures and his many relationships. Sheridan not only sounds remarkably like Newley, in voice quality and phrasing, but he has also captured his stance and movements.
Anthony George Newley (24 September 1931 – 14 April 1999) was born in the working class London suburb of Hackney and was raised by his unmarried mother. He became a child star but, unlike many others, his career did not end as he grew older. His career was multi-faceted: film actor, pop singer, songwriter and composer of musicals. Early this year an album of previously unpublished song, entitled Newley Discovered, was released, indicating his lasting popularity. His output was prolific and many big stars sang his songs, often as their signature tunes, as this show would tell.
But first, we hear of his illegitimate birth and early childhood, including the War years, returning from being billeted in the country to find his mother had married, which was all a cue for Sheridan to sing The Good Old Bad Old Days to get the story rolling along. He attended a stage school, working his way through, telling us I Want It Now. Attempts to get him to lose his East London accent failed and that accent, in spite of the teachers’ misgivings, proved invaluable later, leading to the role of the Artful Dodger in a film version of Oliver Twist. At this time he began singing.
He met Diana Dors at this time and ended up in trouble when they were caught together, misbehaving. His film contract was cancelled and he was out in the cold. National Service followed, but his insubordination and general chaotic behaviour ensured he was thrown out. Not long after, in 1959, he had his first major hit with Personality. This was given a rocking treatment by Sheridan. More hits followed, but Newley tired of singing other people’s songs and began writing his own in earnest, with Leslie Bricusse becoming his writing partner. They called each other Brickman and Newburg. The 1960s were his golden years and I recall that he seemed to be constantly appearing on variety shows on television in England at that time as well as in stage productions and films. He even had his own wwekly television programme for a time, The Anthony Newley Show.
Sheridan reminded those of us who knew, just how much Newley contributed to the world of music, and surprised those that didn’t, by telling how many songs that they know came from his fertile mind.
With Bricusse, he wrote the musical Stop the World, I Want to Get Off which had the hit song, Gonna Build A Mountain, as well as the even bigger hit, What Kind of Fool Am I? The latter was of course a massive hit for Sammy Davis Jnr. An hilarious moment was Sheridan, as Newley, caricaturising Sammy Davis Jnr. whilst singing this song. Newley starred in the first production of this musical, of course and, like so many of his songs, those in this work reflected his life and his attitude to living and loving. His songs were always very personal. Sheridan understands this and discovers the inner meanings of all that he sings, giving them the necessary emotional content.
Feeling Good, from another hit show, The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, had Sheridan swinging and drew huge applause, leading quickly into On a Wonderful Day like Today, from the same show. His newborn son died shortly after and this, coupled with his philandering, caused his first marriage to collapse. Newley asks, Who Can I Turn To? Sheridan brings out all of the poignancy in this number and tugs at the heart strings as he displays Newley’s loss. Newley moved to America. There he married Joan Collins and his career was successful, working for years in Las Vegas, but it all soon fell apart.
When Sheridan sang the theme from the James Bond film, Goldfinger, there were surprised mutterings all around as people realised that it had been written by Newley. The pair also wrote the music for the musical films Dr. Dolittle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From the latter came another massive hit that became the signature tune for Sammy Davis Jnr., Candy Man, which Sheridan nicely coupled with I’ve got a Golden Ticket and Pure Imagination.
Now used to continual success, he suddenly found himself in new territory when his film, Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, failed miserably. Another of Newley’s hits, The Joker, served as an introduction to Sheridan’s telling of Newley’s search for his father and his vain hope of a reuniting of his parents. Nothing Can Stop Me Now gave Sheridan a chance to show Newley’s false optimism for the future. A third marriage and a need to support them saw him back in England and working in tiny venues and pubs, hitting rock bottom. His career never really recovered.
Throughout the performance, aided by some well-considered lighting, Sheridan indicates the passing of time simply by costume changes and by subtly changing his character to show aging and the changes in Newley as his life, health and career deteriorate. He died of kidney cancer at the age of 67. Coming full circle and emotional reprise of What Kind of Fool Am I? ended the performance to massive applause and a standing ovation. As Sheridan’s encore, a lively version of Once in a Lifetime clearly pleased the audience.
Musical Director, Nigel Ubrihien, not only accompanied Sheridan, leading a fine small group of local musicians, but also played a number of minor roles wonderfully. Sheridan could not have asked for better accompaniment than that given by Ubrihien, at the piano, with Adelaide Art Orchestra members, Tim Bowen on bass and Damien Eldridge on drums.
It is Sheridan, however, that made this performance something special, with his clear understanding of the complex man that was Anthony Newley coupled with his excellent characterisation and superb interpretation of the music. This was a bravura performance.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.