Phil Scott as Lionel Bart, has been busy recently Reviewing The Situation. After being a smash hit during the 2015 cabaret season, he returned to the Hayes Theatre to wow and entertain audiences again 4 – 7 February, 2016.
The Hayes Theatre is dedicated to the art of musical theatre, its cabaret venue located in Potts Point, a small suburb of inner-city Sydney. It is named for Nancye Hayes (b.1943-), a legendary Australian musical theatre figure since the 1960s.
Phil Scott pianist, singer, writer and comedian teamed up with writer-director Terence O’Connor to create his tantalizing one man show, adding yet another bow to Phil Scott’s already amazing thirty year repertoire.
The sparse set recreated a simple flat sited above a twenty four hour laundrette, where Lionel Bart, legendary writer and composer of British pop music and musicals, lived in his later years.
An old 1970’s armchair draped in a coat sat beside a small circular side table and a single glass settled near a bottle of spirits.
A Kawai baby grand piano cast a shadow and the piano seat on the stage of this intimate theatre set the audience awash with excited anticipation.
Phil Scott made his entrance as the lovable rogue Lionel Bart.
He donned the grey tweed coat to complete his outfit of black shirt, white tie and black hat. The scene was set as he welcomed the audience to his humble abode explaining “it’s just you and me”.
He began his reminisces doting on the fabulous opulent twenty seven room mansion from his former life where “my parties were legendary”.
His ‘Fun Palace’ hosted a guest list of famous regulars including Princess Margaret, Noel Coward, The Rolling Stones, The Beetles, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Judy Garland.
His ever present optimism and mischievous sense of humour were evident as he affirmed his alcohol addiction chortling “I’m on the wagon but I’ll just have one or two drinks”.
In this animated show he shared stories from his incredible life and interwove them with his unique music. Ironically he opened with his song That’s Your Funeral from his iconic musical Oliver!
He was proud to boast of his ability to write lyrics informing the audience of his “small pleasures.”
In his earlier life he was an accomplished painter but “nobody applauds a painter” he jested and the audience cheered with laughter.
Lionel Bart was an East End Cockney from a poor Jewish family. He was born Lionel Begleiter and “couldn’t see this name up in lights”, consequently changing his name to Lionel Bart after passing St Bart’s hospital.
His experiences at English music halls, milk bars, cafes and pubs were to be reflected in the songs he dug out of the earth of ordinary people.
The renowned English playwright John Osborne wrote pensively.
“The music hall is dying, and, with it, a significant part of England. Some of the heart of England has gone; something that once belonged to everyone, for this was truly a folk art.”
Later with his fascination for the entertainment world he wandered into the West End and began to make a name for himself.
Lionel Bart sang It’s a Fine Life and extolled the virtues of the single life.Then the audience was thrilled by Living Doll composed and written for the film Serious Change and made popular by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Who can forget the up-tempo light rock and roll music and those catchy lyrics?
“Got myself a crying, talking, sleeping, walking, living doll.”
Lionel Bart was responsible for discovering two of Larry Parnes’ (artist manager and music publisher) biggest stars Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde.
Little White Bull acknowledged by Lionel Bart as very much a copy of Danny Kaye’s Ugly Duckling was a hit for Tommy Steele. Little White Bull was featured in the film Tommy The Toreador.
Lionel Bart (Phil Scott) captured the audience not only with his singing prowess but equally impressive story telling skills. His tonal quality inflection and contagious enthusiasm were warmly appreciated by the audience. His final “ole” to Little White Bull bought the house down.
His successes continued with the theme song From Russia with Love the James Bond movie of the same title and a hit for Matt Monro.
He wrote the song from Tatyana’s not Bond’s perceptive supporting his belief that he did his “best work when writing for a specific character.”
He adhered to the instructions of the producer repeatedly using the title of the movie in the lyrics grinning cheekily as he clarified “repeat is my middle name.”
Lionel Bart never learned to read or write musical notation nevertheless this did not stop him he employed Joan Maitland as a transcriber. Although this caused some difficulties they continued to work together on other musical projects and Joan sustained royalties from Oliver!
Oliver! remains a much loved musical across the world and had 2,618 performances in its original season at the West End in which our very own Barry Humphries stared.
The mood of Consider Yourself was eloquently and affectionately delivered.
“Consider yourself at home. Consider yourself one of the family. We’ve taken to you so strong. It’s clear we’re going to get along.”
The simplicity and unpretentious nature of Lionel’s lyrics are underscored with beautiful melodies that sing of truth.
“Where Is Love? Does it fall from skies above? Is it underneath the willow tree? That I’ve been dreaming of?”
Lionel was inspired by childhood memories like the sound image of a stick being dragged along a fence.
He loved rhyming couplets and was presented with a Rhyming Dictionary by Noel Coward.
The love ballad As Long as He Needs Me was emotional in resonance and perhaps reflected sentiments about coming out later in his life.
Sadly Lionel experienced financial disaster with the musicals Blitz (inspired by the war years) and Twang (based on Robin Hood).
Twang should have closed in Manchester where it opened to deathly silence. Instead Lionel dragged it to West End where it was a complete failure and he was forced to sell the rights of Oliver to Max Bygraves to cover his debts. This unwise decision would haunt him for the rest of his life.
His successes were short lived. He went from “chandelier to candle” as a result of “booze going to his head not fame,” changing times and music plus his frivolous approach to money.
Throughout his life he remained steadfastly optimistic and this contagious joy was ever present in Phil Scott’s perceptive entertaining and joyous celebration of a British musical genius.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016