Seven Angels Theatre, Waterbury: If you don’t know who Anthony Newley was, you will by the time you leave the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury. That’s because Jon Peterson, who has wowed Seven Angels and many audiences before, has now stepped into Newley’s shoes and taken on that persona with gusto in He Wrote Good Songs.
Like the energy bunny, Peterson (who conceived and wrote the show, which is having its Connecticut premiere) keeps going going going until the final curtain. The thing is that he’s awfully good. He doesn’t mimic or offer a counterfeit performance of the Newley who wrote songs such as Goldfinger, What Kind of Fool Am I, Who Can I Turn To, and Gonna Build a Mountain. Instead, he is a conduit through which Newley’s life flows, making Peterson’s performance decidedly personal and genuine.
Born in a little town outside of London and out of wedlock, Newley seems not to have held a grudge against his father for abandoning him or for his mother for walking out on him when he was 15. Peterson shows how much Newley loved babies and how many he fathered. One especially tender moment is when he holds one of his newborns in his arms and wonders how his own father could have not appreciated such life. Integrating the great Newley songs into Peterson’s performance as well as Newley’s many affairs make it easy to see why the love of his life, Joan Collins, divorced him. There were just too many women in his life.
Women began following him at the age of 16 when Newley first started getting recognized as a star for his role in Oliver with Petula Clark. It’s almost as if fate had decreed that he would be a star. And Newley was a shining star. He was an actor, a singer, a songwriter, and a director. However, in order to convey such talent one would have to be at least as creative a genius. That would be Jon Peterson, who makes Newley so memorable that you leave the theater knowing you won’t forget either Newley or Peterson. This is more than one man show; it’s the tale of two brilliant talents fused together for two highly entertaining and riveting acts. Expect Peterson’s Broadway swagger and voice to win you over in the first five minutes of the show. Expect a well deserved standing ovation at the end.
Semina DeLaurentis directs the show with a deep appreciation for subject and performer, giving Peterson the full range of the stage. Bruce Barnes is the musical director and Daniel Husvar has created a lovely English neighborhood. Cott Cally’s lighting and Matt Martin’s sound design accent the set well.
The band is terrific and includes musical director Bruce Barnes on piano; Louis Tucci on guitar and bass; and Mark Ryan as percussionist. The production runs through Nov. 27. Box office: 203-757-4676.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]