Review: Cycology: Inside the Mind of Cy Coleman – Sydney Fringe Festival

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The one-man cabaret show Cycology: Inside the Mind of Cy Coleman, written and performed by Richard Woodhouse, is a vocal memoir. Woodhouse plays Coleman, reflecting upon his life as a musician while performing his most famous songs.

Coleman was an American composer, songwriter, and jazz pianist who composed many famous musical hits of the second half of the twentieth century like ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’, ‘Witchcraft’, and ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’. He is known as the man behind the music of Tony Award winning musicals Sweet Charity and City of Angels, as well as writing for crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet.

Woodhouse begins at Coleman’s childhood passion for music and provides a summary of key career events. The piece delves deeply into the relationships he had with his writing partners, particularly Carolyn Leigh; their relationship was both volatile and founded in deep admiration and respect.

Woodhouse is accompanied by a three-piece jazz band (Jonathon Holmes, Sam Blackburn, and Ferris Kite), an ode to the Cy Coleman Trio which took jazz clubs by storm in the 50s and 60s. While Coleman lead the group as its pianist, in this cabaret Woodhouse – with the exception of one heartfelt piece – leaves the accompaniment to his band instead.

Woodhouse follows the ‘life story punctuated with songs’ cabaret formula, and while the music plays the band is a lively addition. However, when Woodhouse speaks, the band wait awkwardly for their next cue; sometimes we too disconnect from the material.

Woodhouse’s American accent captures the atmosphere of the 1960s Jazz clubs and though he fumbles with occasionally, he does nicely maintain the accent when singing. Coleman was a confident man, and Woodhouse’s occasional stumbles over the script unfortunately challenge that persona, but he was rescued by nice comic moments littered throughout the script.

The show is not a monodrama, so it lacks the variance in pace, tension and energy that you’d expect from a traditional narrative performance piece. The biographical script is stilted in its narrow view, and doesn’t leave much room for growth. The strongest moments involve Coleman discussing his relationship with Carolyn Leigh, and the complicated maelstrom of emotions at the heart of their partnership. Woodhouse’s heartfelt performance allows the audience to understand the mixed emotions and feelings that plagued these interactions.

Apart from these moments the piece is simply an accurate retelling of Coleman’s life, a summation of his Wikipedia page. With that said, the musical pieces are nicely scattered throughout so he’s never rambling for too long.

Ultimately Cycology: Inside the Mind of Cy Coleman allows audiences to learn about the life of a famous composer from a unique perspective while delivering a sufficient rendition of the classic tunes that musical theatre and jazz fans know best. Woodhouse’s ‘talking head’ style is nothing new, but for the chance to learn more about a highly influential musician while enjoying some  light jazz tunes, it’s better than staying at home.

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Jo Bradley.

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