Review by Joe Regan Jr.
Jon Peterson is a British born singer/dancer/actor who played on Broadway as the Emcee in the last revival of “Cabaret” and his last New York show was “Song And Dance Man” which paid tribute to George M. Cohan, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Tony Newley, one of the best shows that year. Peterson, who is based in Las Vegas these days, has created a new show, “…He wrote good songs” Little Chap: A Life of Anthony Newley which made its debut at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this year and was performed in New York October 27 at Stage 72.
Peterson’s new show, directed by Gwen Hiller with musical direction by Buddy Barnes, is a book show about Newley’s life and the amazing thing is that, although he takes on Newley’s East End accent and phrasing, Peterson does not do an imitation. Peterson gives us a full acting performance of Newley with all its “gesticulation.” Peterson’s gestures and body movements are spot-on in each phase of Newley’s career, from child actor to the older, famous performer whose music partnership with Leslie Bricusse is “like a marriage.” There is insight, in explicit detail, about Newley’s four marriages and children. Peterson’s acting and singing is genius.
Illegitimate, Newley was raised by his mother and his grandfather – he was a hard times kid, carrying a knife to survive among the street gangs of his neighborhood. Throughout the show, Peterson uses songs from the Newley repertoire to amplify and enhance the events in the biography. For instance, early on we hear “On a Wonderful Day Like Today,” and “Pure Imagination,” describing how the kid survived his hard times, from doing janitor work to being cast when he was 14 as the Artful Dodger in “Oliver Twist,” becoming a pop idol with his take on “Pop Goes the Weazel.”
Peterson depicts Newley as an always randy young boy, endlessly Priapic, and he impregnates several girls, always asking them to “get rid of it.” He is in several films. He also writes songs for the films many of them big hits.
Newley, commissioned to write an original musical with Leslie Bricusse, created “Stop the World I Want To Get Off.” Peterson sings “Gonna Build A Mountain” and “Once In A Lifetime”(recorded by Judy Garland). Their follow-up, “The Roar of the Greasepaint,” is a big flop with Norman Wisdom but Merrick insists Newley take the lead for New York. Merrick wants to cut “Who Can I Turn To,“ but Newley stubbornly won’t go on until the song is restored. It is.
Peterson strips to his underwear to demonstrate Newley’s seduction of Joan Collins They marry, he relocates to Hollywood where Collins introduces him to all the important people – a very productive period for him until “Doctor Doolittle.” Peterson describes how much Rex Harrison hated the animals and all the cast and how the movie was a disaster.
After Newley’s autobiographical movie “ Heronymous Merkin” is a big flop, Collins divorces him for his continuing infidelities.
Peterson changes outfits as Newley ages and Newley and Bricusse create a monster hit with “Candy Man,” a song Newley hated, but Peterson does a perfect performance of that mega hit. He has a great success in London in Bricusse’s “Scrooge” but develops cancer and, surrounded by his mother and all his children, dies. His tombstone reads “,,,he wrote good songs.”
Near the end of the show, Peterson dons the Little Chap makeup and costume and again moves us with “What Kind of Fool Am I.” It is a consummate performance that deserves to be seen again.