On the surface there's something peculiarly English about this production: a show which celebrates musicals that failed. In some instances there are even the failures of the failures - numbers that got themselves cut from shows that didn't survive. Spirits and hopes aren't greatly lifted by an opening number (Be my Friend [On The Facebook]) which is about as uplifting and gripping as the title suggests.
But somehow, against all of the odds - the odds which these shows themselves didn't manage to overcome in their former incarnations - this is an irresistible evening's entertainment. It is at its best when the original creators introduce and perform their own work. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, for example, tell some very amusing anecdotes about the part Cameron Mackintosh played in the development of their musical adaptation of Kipling's Just So stories. Their renditions of two of the show's numbers will never win awards for their performances, but who can deny the charm of hearing the originators deliver their own work?
Ryan Cunningham (gleefully introduced as having very recently moved “from New York to.....Clapham!”) gives the history to I Love You Because - the musical version loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, for which he wrote the lyrics. He then sings one of its numbers which, he freely admits, was greeted by great shows of boredom during the original production. The performance is no more than adequate but the combination of the context and the self-effacing introduction ensures a warm reception.
A number of performers come and go. Some are reprising performances from earlier productions, some with familial connections to the musicals, others here just for this evening's performance. The quality of performance varies, but there are one or two exceptional numbers. Daniel Crane brings both wit and humanity to his rendition of Real Live Girl from Little Me, and Rachel Jerram ensures the evening culminates in a rousing climax as she belts out The Money Tree from The Act.
Oliver Southgate and Lydia Grant provide links which give some background to the shows and catalogue reasons for their failure. Intentionally or not, some of this is quite hilarious. “Thanks for that” says Will Silverside as he takes to the stage to sing Look Who's Alone Now from Nick and Nora after an introduction which completely destroys the reputation of the show: Nick and Snora it was called by some critics, and it never achieved any success.
But unfortunately Southgate and Grant never quite succeed in the presenter roles. In their efforts to be informal and welcoming, they end up racing through the links, stumbling over the facts and figures, and losing some of the fascinating information they are meant to impart. This really is a shame and could be so easily remedied.
The Landor Theatre itself is one of those treasures of the London fringe, which has played host to some of the musicals featured in this entertainment. It's a generous performance space in a welcoming pub with a garden which, given a better summer (or even a summer at all) would be a great venue for open-air Italianate offerings. This show sits comfortably here.
Having set itself up as an evening of heroic failures, If It Only Even Runs a Minute abounds with such joyful performances, often making up in enthusiasm what they lack in style, in front of an audience that knows what it likes and likes what it sees, that it becomes thoroughly irresistible. If only the presenters would treat the links and their facts with the respect they deserve, this could be an even more informative as well as entertaining evening out.
And while you're polishing up the links, it would be only right and proper to offer the excellent Gary Jerry more than the one namecheck he received. As Musical Director and, more importantly, accompanist, he provides consistent, sympathetic backing on the piano which runs the full gamut from sensitive and jazzy to big and ballsy.
Whatever mood you bring to this performance, it's all but impossible not to be totally swept up in its exuberance. You’ll leave with the broadest of smiles, which will run much longer than a minute.