BWW Reviews: British Actor Jon Peterson Brings Littlechap Anthony Newley to Memorable Life in His Original Work at Fringe
"...He Wrote Good Songs"/Littlechap. A Life of Anthony Newley./written & performed by Jon Peterson/directed by Gwen Hillier/musical direction by Joshua Eli Kranz/Asylum Lab Theatre/selected performance as part of Hollywood Fringe 2014/remaining performance: Saturday June 28 at 5:30 pm
It is a thrilling experience when a one-person show offers so much more than initially expected. When you mention the name Anthony Newley, songwriter par excellence automatically pops into the brain, as well as dynamic tour.de.force performer. Stop the World! I Want to Get Off, his first London/Broadway collaboration with Leslie Bricusse in 1966 was a unique look at man's - Littlechap - living through life's never-ending struggles. For those unfamiliar with this musical, it was phenomenal and unforgettable. Now in a tiny Fringe 2014 show at the Asylum Lab Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd., Jon Peterson unbelievably squeezes Newley's entire life in London and America into 85 minutes. With miles of charisma, talent and heart, he does it, may I add, phenomenally and unforgettably. It is a tour.de.force performance that unfortunately only plays one more time for Fringe, but will hopefully return in the near future at a regular venue. If not, it's a crying shame, for this show and the artist deserve all-out, full-fledged recognition.
On a tiny stage with wonderful musical director Joshua Eli Kranz at the piano, and a few props and changes of clothing, Peterson works at a breakneck pace to bring Newley to life from his Rank film days in the impoverished East End of London to his gigantic success in New York and Hollywood and eventual demise and death. Newley never knew his father growing up - a fact which he disdained. He lived and managed to survive in poverty with his mother Gracie, who remained with him on both sides of the pond until the end. In later life, after successes and failures, he did finally locate his dad and struck up a desperately needed friendship. Newley's philanderings from a young age also presented him with a myriad of problems. He married Joan Collins and somehow miraculously the couple stayed together for 8 years, producing two children. Newley's constant unfaithfulness with all women and his undying fear of being alone drove him to the brink, and despite the great stage hits Stop the World!, The Roar of the Greasepaint and much later the early stage mounting of the musical Scrooge, he lived a life filled with struggle, not unlike his character Littlechap, whom he patterned after himself.
Peterson doesn't look exactly like Newley nor does he sound exactly like him but possesses just the right amount of raw energy, drive and boundless talent - both acting and singing - to make the portrayal totally convincing. His body - in continual motion, mind and emotional instruments are channeled into Newley all the way. I was pulled in during the first five minutes and was not disappointed for a second. Songs were well-chosen and the writing is funny with intensely dramatic moments, and ... Peterson savors every single one of them.
The show has 20 of Newley's hits including "Pop Goes the Weazel", "On a Wonderful Day Like Today", "Once in a Lifetime", "Who Can I Turn To?", "Candy Man" - not one of Newley's favorites, "What Kind of Fool Am I?", "Gonna Build a Mountain" and ... even an original by Peterson entitled "In London" which helps to set the tone of the piece at the top.
Dramatically, Peterson not only brings the life of Anthony Newley to vibrant life on stage, but effectively does what many performers only dream of doing ...to reach the audience with a message about dreams and hope and to make them genuinely feel good about living. "...He Wrote Good Songs", directed with great skill by Gwen Hillier and with expert musical direction by Kranz, is at once educational, emotionally satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable entertainment with Peterson coming up a bonafide winner. Like Newley before him he possesses a genius that should make him a true star.