York Theatre, January 17
Even more than any gift, skill, hard work or experience, the common denominator among the greatest performers is heart. It’s their willingness to dare to be vulnerable enough to give up their inner selves for public consumption, and thereby touch us.
When you combine that with affableness, and no doubt a soupcon of luck along the way, you get a CV that reads like a theatrical who’s who. You get Philip Quast. The journey from Tamworth turkey farm to toast of the West End sounds like the stuff of myths. Then you hear his singing and his anecdotes, and understand how myth became reality, with the abiding impression much more of a life lived than a career made.
Sometimes the content and presentation could as delightfully old-world as a crystal glass of port sitting on a doily. When he was funny, the joke was always against himself, and when a song was sad it bit into your heart. Through all the music ran that rich baritone which changes with each role, and is capped with a halo of tenor.
Quast retired from musical theatre after playing Ben Stone in the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Sondheim’s Follies, from which he sang The Road You Didn’t Take, and the completeness of his artistry infiltrated one’s depths like light through a gap in thick curtains. He originated George in London’s Sunday in the Park with George, and played Judge Turpin alongside Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson in Sweeney Todd. Reaching such heights allowed him to luxuriate in the treasure of having Sondheim personally explain the art of writing melodies to speech patterns.
We had to revisit Playschool, of course, and David Campbell made a surprise appearance to join Quast for Lily’s Eyes from The Secret Garden, their voices blending to stunning effect. The encore was I Am What I Am from La Cage Aux Folles, with its message of acceptance intertwined with love. Quast’s expert collaborator was pianist Anne-Maree McDonald, whose self-effacement blended perfectly with his own.