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Only An Octave Apart at Wilton's Music Hall – review

The NYC sensation crosses the Atlantic

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Only An Octave Apart
© Ellie Kurttz

Only An Octave Apart makes the meeting of opera and cabaret feel logical. Are there any forms more confident in their deployment of archness and innocence? Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo's musical revue shows off the considerable powers of both singers: the collaboration was originally a recorded album, whose songs were reshuffled and performed live first in a New York production, co-created and directed by Zack Winokur.

Bringing the show to London for the first time, the countertenor Costanzo and cabaret legend Bond break out the Purcell, Mozart, and jazz standards over the course of a glittering 90 minutes. The two wryly wring the timely "dying queen" potential from a mash-up you might anticipate (think Dido), along with moments of stillness and silliness as they run the gamut together. It's a winking, moving, cultural treat for a few different types of gay (or music-lover). The fully kitted-out band keeps nimbly apace, under the direction of Daniel Schlosberg and supervised by Thomas Bartlett, making use of harp, bass guitar, piano, and much more.

Bond's voice is bold and wise, almost cavernous somehow, as if there are things hiding in it. In "Me and My Shadow", the band break into quieter plucking while Bond breathes a staccato, saucy chorus alone, with hands held perkily up, 60s girl group-style. Dumping flowers on the stage singing ‘There are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden' or dipping into a Lina Lamont impression, they're as generously funny as they can be solemn.

For any Bond devotee, tearing your eyes away from their face might be difficult at times (even their blinks are like well-timed exclamation marks), but if anyone's worth the effort, it's Costanzo. He shines out, duetting with himself as he takes the Count and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, frantically throwing himself about the stage, or delivering Secrecy's masque from The Fairy-Queen in creamy, vital voice. He's equal to Bond's comedy, becoming a strict little wide-eyed automaton in their take on "Walk Like An Egyptian", taut and warbling.

The dynamic between the two of them casts Bond as the more salacious, quippy veteran of a scrappier, clubbier experience, with Costanzo as the prim, prissier and cosseted opera star – united by respect for each other's craft. And a gay showbiz sensibility. The patter between songs can be slightly creaky at times, a little cleaner than necessary. Their irresistible personas assert themselves regardless. When the pair duet, everything makes sense.

The costumes, by designer JW Anderson, see the two in vehicular boobtubes sitting on traffic cones at the show's opening. Clumsy and chic together. The succeeding changes bring on sequinned dresses as well as delicate layers of feathers and lace. The aesthetic feels at home in Wilton's Music Hall, a lush setting for the gorgeous blue satin curtains of Carlos Soto's set, and John Torres' lighting locates the pair in different worlds of colours, number by number.

The hall was selected as the London site for this transfer, Bond explains to us, as neutral territory, rather than the opera or cabaret-specific haunts either might have favoured. However this audience, though obviously a pretty gay one, feels more inclined towards the opera than the Sylvester number ("Stars") Bond encourages Costanzo into, nervously still and upright in their seats. Dancier, poppier moments don't quite expand to fill and animate the beautiful space: perhaps a Soho basement would've been a rough-and-readier container for these glittering bits of opera after all.

There's a moment for everyone, despite the venue's aptitude for elegance: slight sleaze, desolation, cosy rapport. Sitting dangling their legs off the edge of the stage and exchanging lines from "The Waters of March", Bond and Costanza draw us in and in. They're a light and cheeky pair, like fond and feeding songbirds, perfectly balanced.


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