Peter Straker Black Magic

MPG Productions and Pleasance Theatre

Pleasance Courtyard

From 31 July 2014 to 24 August 2014

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

Peter Straker, who first achieved prominence in the London production of Hair in 1968, had a major hit with his tribute to Jacques Brel, which he revived at last year's Fringe.

This year's show is more of a straight concert in one of the Pleasance Courtyard's largest spaces, which was, sadly, a long way from being full when I saw the show. In it, he gives a taster of his range as a singer, which straddles the border between crooner and rock.

This is best illustrated by a transition between "That Old Black Magic"—after which he passes a box of chocolates of the same name around the audience—and Queen's "It's A Kind of Magic". We also get the Rolling Stones's "Sympathy for the Devil" and he taunts us with a snatch of "See me, feel me" in the blackouts without giving us a number from Tommy.

But we do hear some songs from other musicals in which he has performed on stage, although they are all female songs. He tells a story about covering for the girls in "White Boys" when he was in Hair, then sings it in the female key. We also get "Toucha Toucha Toucha Touch Me", sung by Janet in The Rocky Horror Show.

His voice is astonishingly high for these rock songs for—dare I say—someone of his age. For a singer whose first hit was the year I was born, you'd expect the top end of his range to have tailed off, but he can scream like Townsend in the '70s, and sing a consistently painfully high female song with barely a crack in the voice.

He does give us a taste of Brel—the hauntingly beautiful "If You Go Away"—along with songs from his albums and more of his own favourites.

Dressed all in black except for his blue suede shows, Straker stalks the stage, acting out every song and seducing the audience with the force of his personality. He always puts on a great show, so I hope there are many fuller houses for him than I saw.