My Queer Valentine

An understudy of a remote touring version of Miss Saigon, Ric Lau is taking an enormous gamble with debut one-man show in Edinburgh. He’s an unknown name waving a small rainbow flag against the torrent of white-noise that happens in August, trying to get a foothold in Europe at what is arguably the biggest arts trade show of them all. I wish him the best of luck.His show is a personal song cycle of tunes that have the common theme that they were all written by gay men. Now I often get the mickey taken out of me for the obscurity of some of the tunes on my iPod, but even I can only claim to have heard about 75% of the songs Lau has selected for his show. If you are one of those of a certain age and sensibility to remember the ‘Stages’ CD compilations from the mid 90s (only albums 1 & 2 of course, because as fans will know number 3 is best forgotten), then there are many parallels that can be drawn here. A soloist with a simple piano accompaniment, singing songs that may have started out for a female vocal but find new resonance in a male voice. That said, there’s a bit of a hiccup with the first song in the selection, which I assume is a late change as it wasn’t listed in the programme. The song, Making Love Alone was originally written for Broadway Diva, Bernadette Peters for a Saturday Night Live appearance in the US, and then made it onto her Live At Carnegie Hall album (and subsequently removed from later pressings, presumably when the ‘shirts’ realised it was about masturbation). It’s a very funny song, but here the lyrics are wrong for a man (“It’s the kind of love, that fits hand in glove”).The next selection, ‘The Boy From Fire Island’ is based on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s 1960’s classic ‘The Girl From Ipanema’. Well, if Sondheim can parody it with ‘The Boy From…’ in ‘The Mad Show’, then why not Ric Lau? This is immediately followed by a more contemporary number, Rufus Wainwright’s The Art Teacher – replacing the ‘girl’ with ‘boy’, etc so you know this is a gay love song.The next song is one of couple Lau has plundered from ‘The Gay 90s Musical’ called ‘He’s Lookin’ At Me’. Set in a communal shower, it’s the story of a straight guy who thinks he’s the object of another man’s attention only to be disappointed when he realises the other guy isn’t looking at him anymore. Lau then switches gear from the campness to sing ‘The Guy In The Starched White Shirt’ from the off-Broadway show ‘Songs From An Unmade Bed’. This is possibly the first time we get a true taste of Lau’s voice – and, to be honest, it’s a welcome break from what was fast becoming a Saturday night at the Vauxhall Tavern. Cole Porter follows this with ‘It’s Alright With Me’ and then a beautiful version of ‘Quiet Love’, which Lau signs as he sings. Poetry in motion.With Lau’s next offering, he introduced me to a song I hadn’t heard before – but one I am surely going to seek out. ‘Yard Sale’ by Tom Andersen was inspired, apparently by the yard sales common in San Francisco, but with a theme running through the lyrics that talks of clinging onto memories during the devastation of the community through the AIDS epidemic. It’s a deeply moving piece that Lau really captures well.It’s back to The Gay 90s Musical songbook for the next tune, ‘And the Ship Sails On’, which is the story of a couple of seagulls on Noah’s Arc that no-one happens to spot are both female, and go on to set up the only Lesbian colony of gulls off California. Erm, yes. This wasn’t the highlight of the show, but Lau quickly recovered with a version of one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite musicals, ‘Dear Dad’ from ‘Fairy Tales’ – a wonderful letter from son to father in which the writer comes out and introduces his dying lover. Lau closes the show with that classic, ‘I Am What I Am’ and a reprise of ‘My Funny Valentine’. It’s a very pleasant way to spend an hour, but I can’t help thinking that there are better song choices from some of the shows he’s already aware of – such as ‘A Hummingbird’ from ‘Fairy Tales’ or ‘John and Fred’ from ‘The Gay 90s’. Lau’s is much better at the pure simple male vocal than the slightly hammy comic numbers, so I’d have preferred more of those and leave the comedy to the drag circuit. But that said, I have to say I rather enjoyed it.

Reviews by Pete Shaw

Assembly George Square Studios

The House

★★★★★
theSpace on the Mile

Grace Notes

★★★
Greenwich Theatre

The Jungle Book

★★★
Greenwich Theatre

A Midsummer Night's Dream

★★★★
Multiple Venues

A Spoonful Of Sherman

★★★★★
Pleasance Theatre

Assassins

★★★★

The Blurb

Fire Island, army shower stall and lesbian seagulls on Noah's Ark? 'One-man tour de force' (Australian). Rick Lau takes you on a roller-coaster cabaret journey to find his rainbow utopia. Queers/non-queers all welcome. www.ricklau.com