Ray Shell is a delight, as ever. For his second cabaret show, he revisits songs from the first show, as well as incorporating a few new ones, with his trademark wit and sparkle.
The follow-up to his spectacular Back to Black is stripped down: it’s just him, a piano and a synth, with no percussion or backing tracks and no singers.
The follow-up to his spectacular Back to Black is stripped down: it’s just him, a piano and a synth, with no percussion or backing tracks and no singers. At times it feels too sparse, with some of the songs lacking life – not just musically, but also dramatically. The highlights of the show were generally the same as with the first show: Your Feet’s Too Big (by far the liveliest of all the numbers), I’m Not My Father’s Son and, of course, Starlight Express. With the exception of the Kinky Boots number, it is very apparent when Shell is singing one of ‘his’ back catalogue – he’s more comfortable, settling into the role naturally, and the notes are effortless. Some of his covers – for example Tracks of My Tears – seemed strained and unemotional by contrast.
That being said, there were a few welcome additions to the set. My Friends from Sweeney Todd was a showstopper, again showing the ease with which he could lapse back into old roles, and showcasing his awe-inspiring, booming lower register. Many of the songs felt slightly too high, but one song which he completely pulled off, despite its high notes, was a cover of Lady Gaga’s Papparazzi – an odd choice, but note-perfect, and well-emoted.
Shell’s tales of his life formed a loose structure for the show – not as in-depth or as interesting as his first show, and he seemed to dispense with storytelling in the second half. His flirtatious banter with the audience kept the rapport going, however, and ensured, despite his constant need to check the setlist, that we were still on board as an audience. His guest was Kim Leeson, his original Pearl in Starlight Express, and as he joined her for a duet of Only You, it became apparent that the sparseness of the other arrangements were lacking. The stark contrast with this number’s beautiful harmonies, fullness of sound, and chemistry between the two singers proved that Shell either needed a bigger band (and one that he could play off more), or more singers.
The evening with Shell was enjoyable and humorous, but I couldn’t help feeling that it lacked the structure and the vitality that it deserved.