Andrew Lippa is a Broadway composer whose shows have not been produced to such an extent on the opposite side of the pond in the UK. David Babani at the Menier Chocolate Factory is currently correcting that situation with a revue of Lippa’s work entitled Life of the Party. What’s different about this revue is that it is a more fully realised and staged show than most of its type, with an inventive and flexible set (featuring objects and pictures connected with the shows), costumes and choreography, a four-piece band, three established West End performers and the composer himself at the helm, as raconteur, singer and pianist. A good mix of solos, duets and company numbers, both humorous and serious, the evening is almost like watching a series of musical extracts from Lippa’s shows like The Addams Family, The Wild Party and the recent short-lived Broadway show Big Fish, interspersed with one-off cabaret style numbers or numbers from shows in development.

Lippa’s best songs are ‘acting songs’ about taking a chance on love and life, and those life-affirming moments. The fact that they are delivered so effectively out of context is due in no small measure to the hard-working trio of singers Summer Strallen, Damian Humbley and Caroline O’Connor who bring each of their characters to life. Strallen – looking like a younger version of her aunt Bonnie Langford – does a lovely, determined ingenue number ‘Live Out Loud’ from A Little Princess. However, there’s a raunchier edge to a lot of her numbers – a far cry from her recent role in Top Hat – from the vampish ‘Cindy’, to gyrating on top of a piano reflecting on her indulgent youth in ‘The Life of the Party’. The section from the show that comes from, The Wild Party, (based on a 1928 poem) was particularly well staged, the audience watching through a haze of smoke and darkness. Menier favourite Damian Humbley – Charley in their recent Merrily and cast in their upcoming Forbidden Broadway – conveys the wonders and dreams of Big Fish, and the humour of Fester from The Addams Family in ‘The Moon and Me’ (with painted face!), a song with a lovely simplicity. Humbley also scored as a young baseball player from John and Jen, Lippa’s two-person musical about the relationship between a brother and sister, and a mother and son. Star of Mack and Mabel and Gypsy, Caroline O’Connor maybe had the best developmental arc musically in the revue, with a series of different characters, initially playing against type in two very vulnerable and internal numbers, the second of which, the soul-searching and heartbreaking ‘Love Somebody Now’, had a particular intensity. A hilarious performance as Morticia from The Addams Family – complete with long black wig – in ‘Just Around The Corner’ was later followed by ‘An Old-Fashioned Love Story’ from The Wild Party in which O’Connor, on the prowl as a predatory lesbian, brought the house down with a song performed with great innuendo and finesse.

One of the challenges of doing a revue show of a relatively unknown composer for UK audiences is that some of the numbers need more ‘setting up’ than others to the audience. For example, Lippa, who hosts the evening, jokes with an audience member before the opening sequence from his recent Broadway flop Big Fish, ‘did you pay full price?!’, instead of giving some much-needed context to the numbers that follow. The performers – who are at the top of their game – could have been allowed to give context too. Lippa tops and tails his show with a song about an adolescent crush on Stephen Sondheim, and the moving ‘Happy/Sad’, with Lippa alone at the piano, touching in its simplicity and sincerity. There are too many gay/theatrical sides elsewhere, but Lippa is at his best when he opens up his vulnerability, scoring on ‘You Are Here’ from I Am Harvey Milk – his oratorio about the gay rights activist that premiered on the same day that gay marriage was federally acknowledged in the US – beautifully. As for his other shows, fully-staged London productions would give one the chance to see and hear the songs in their full context – The Wild Party and John and Jen would be ideal for the Menier space – but this wide-ranging and well-sung revue is definitely the next best thing.