BWW Review: ONE NIGHT WITH... GIOVANNI SPANO, The Space @ Studio 88
London's newest West End Cabaret venue, The Space @ Studio 88, welcomes Giovanni Spano to sing to an intimate audience of devoted fans - one of whom has seen him at least 600 times.
The compact venue and his family's presence around the front table, chipping in whenever they could, made it feel like Gio giving a concert in the family living room and we were privileged to be party to it. He was close enough to sit on the audience's laps - and, at one point, he actually did.
Spano opens by introducing himself in the style of the X Factor announcer and seamlessly drifts into his first song "Mama Says (You Can't Back Down)" from Footloose. Sitting down to talk over Spano's marathon 2018, James Barr - stand-up comic and presenter for the night - explains that his aim for the evening is for it to be "relaxed, super chill".
The two strike up an instant, easy rapport, allowing the conversation to flow freely. Open and honest, Spano talks about his childhood, his early career and the high points of his past year. The humble performer laughs in disbelief at some of the biggest achievements, like just how far his X Factor journey progressed.
The five songs, which intersect Spano and Barr's easy chatter, span a range of styles, from musical theatre to opera to pop. "Mama Says" is a little bit of rock with a little bit of jazz, and aria "Mi Mancherai", which Spano first performed with Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, is emotive and impressive.
Spano includes a song he is known for from THAT X Factor audition, "Iris", and explains that the crowd were definitely feeling his first audition attempt. The powers-that-be just wanted to send him on a "journey".
Of course, X Factor is discussed at length, with Spano marvelling over the amount of daily attention he had from stylists and how people now come up to him in kitchen showrooms to say they know who he is.
He hints that he was not going to let the producers dictate his performance style and mentioned that they blew their entire production budget on him. There is also a cheeky Britney impression thrown in for good measure. The main point he keeps coming back to throughout the evening, though, is his aim to use music to spread joy and bring people together, something he expresses in earnest.
The highlight is Spano's "go to" audition song: Elton John's "Your Song". The intimate venue allows him to look into his audience's eyes while singing and draw them into his heartfelt performance, showing off his vocal agility, which appears second nature to him. He sings directly to the crowd and into the cameras of those who choose to film, making sure the whole room feels involved. Spano closes with "Feeling Good", a big song for an even bigger voice.
Pianist Ben Papworth does an excellent job - despite having had only 20 minutes of rehearsal and having not played "Iris" at all. However, there was not a note out of place and he supports Spano beautifully. Barr's charisma holds up well next to Spano's magnetism and he put the audience at ease, carrying the evening effortlessly.
The venue has a few teething problems. There was no music arranged for before the performance, but Barr styled it out well, playing tracks from people's phones over the microphone and repeatedly requesting the Spice Girls. Spano hung around the piano smiling and laughing as this went on.
The Space sits in the live music bar, Studio 88, and the performances from the other room can be heard through the walls; not a problem when the singing is loud, but a little distracting during conversation and quieter moments.
It was also not necessarily the audience's comfort zone. There was a definite sense that Spano's fans are more at home in the theatre and they were a little too polite to sustain the cheering, clapping and arm waving. Questions were not forthcoming in Q&A sections, and the underground venue meant questions sent in by fans online could not be accessed either.
All in all, though, a fantastic hour of showmanship, with Spano pleasing the crowd even when just sat on a bar stool chatting. Barr comments at the end that he has only know Spano for an hour and is already proud of him, and this is how the rock star makes all his fans feel: he could play any room like he's playing an arena. He certainly seems to be living out the dream of his younger self back at Sylvia Young, to "enjoy everything [he] was doing and going to do in the future".
Photo credit: Charlotte Downes