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The Genius of Ray Charles review at Theatre Royal Haymarket

Genius is a word often bandied about nowadays but in the case of Ray Charles the label is entirely appropriate. What a shame then that this disappointing compilation show, which had its US premiere last month in Nevada, only hints at the great musician’s style, versatility and inspiration.

There is certainly a fair amount of talent on stage, not least the core group of six singers (on this occasion all American, bar one), but until the evening’s final stages nothing really gels.

Instead we seem to be left with a race through the Charles catalogue – literally a conveyor belt of material ranging from early recordings made for Atlantic Records via the composer/arranger’s successful detours from R&B and soul into country music and pop. Relatively comprehensive to be sure, but all sophistication is lost to over-amplified vocal and instrumental noise. The sound balance is sometimes just diabolical.

Even in what could have been more tender moments, singers seem to be more concerned about showing off the breadth of their vocal range than actually thinking about the lyric in question. Incredible voices can leave you cold if the heart of a song is missing.

Still at least the singers give their all. Not so the mainly British ensemble of dancers. Apart from two distinctive female performers, the group often appears uncomfortable and wooden, although Gary Lloyd’s lame direction and choreography do not help.

Towards the end of the evening numbers such as a gospel-influenced Imagine, Georgia on My Mind and the foot-tapping Shake a Tail Feather do something to drum up audience enthusiasm. However, the piece still does little to open your eyes to the true genius of the late, great Charles – the original recordings may be the better alternative for that.

Production Information

Theatre Royal Haymarket, June 20-August 13

Created by
David King
Director/choreographer
Gary Lloyd
Producer
Theatre Royal Haymarket Productions by arrangement with David King for Spirit of the Dance and Stuart Littlewood
Cast includes
Johnnie Fiori, Ken Prymus, Maurey Richards, Natalyia Roni, N’Kenge Simpson-Hoffman, Ty Stephens
Running time
2hrs 10mins