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Gyles BRANDRETH [writer and deviser]
Zipp! (2001-04)
Gyles Brandreth
Andrew C Wadsworth
Stefan Benarczyk
Amanda Symonds
Shona White
Musical direction and arrangements by Stuart Barr
Recorded live at the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon, May 1st 2004

The musical stage was rocked to its foundations – or brought quivering to its knees depending on one’s view – by the appearance of Zipp! an evening of a hundred musicals performed by a cast of five. The fons et origo of this creation was the erstwhile parliamentarian and teddy bear aficionado Gyles "Jumpers" Brandreth, a product of Oxford, media larceny and now, bewildering though it is to imagine, a CBS News reporter.

Brandreth is clearly a creature of the stage, a kind of demi-phantom of the musical operetta, and was once in fact director of the Oxford Theatre Festival. Zipp, a contraction of the famous Disney song I’m too indolent to type in full, has played with great success up and down the land from Edinburgh to Guildford and most stops in between. In modern parlance it’s been workshopped along the way and we have here, unveiled in 2004, its final incarnation. Think of Bruckner editions and then think of Zipp – and then think again.

Greatest Hits flash by, a hundred of them, and all piano accompanied. It’s a kind of accelerated learning curve, a high-speed montage, presided over by Brandreth’s twinkle-eyed, sloe-footed (or is that the wrong way round) master of ceremonies and occasional hoofer, larynx tester and closet transvestite (please see the back of the booklet). He’s breathlessly avuncular throughout, spicing up audience reaction with some risqué banter as well some leering interplay with a stalls damsel called Brenda. The cast is with him all the way, bringing gusto to the George Melly-isms of You got the right key and the Lehrer-doffing The Vatican Rag (the former a double entendre vaudeville number surely, not from a musical, and the latter an imperishable moment no one can do if he’s not Lehrer). Julie Andrews is gently mocked, Noel Coward tweaked and – the most hilarious of all – Lord Lloyd Webber done over with a drum machine in an eleven minute Tribute. Done over is not quite right – the vexatious cast bring such verve to the proceedings that one capitulates with shuddering pleasure. Curiously enough one of the best lines in the whole show ("Byron, drag your leg over here") raises barely a titter – the good burghers of Croydon being notoriously resistant to arty allusions in their camp.

So if your yen is to hear a gay I Remember It Well in precisely 1.02 or The Doctor dusted down in twenty-seven seconds or maybe even an intoxicatingly silly series of sequences then you can join the audience at the Ashcroft Theatre for a Porter and Sondheim-rich fest of frolics, presided über alles by the Judy Garland-loving, pertly bosomed Gyles "Call Me Madam" Brandreth.

Jonathan Woolf

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