“Call it fate or call it karma, I was made for daytime drama”
Legacy Falls is a new musical from James Burn, with assistance on the book from Ian Poitier who also doubles as director and choreographer. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at the on-screen and off-screen antics at an American daytime soap opera, Legacy Falls, which is suffering from falling ratings and so when a new producer is brought in to shake things up, the bitchiness and back-stabbing is ramped up as the actors begin to question their security and their happiness in life, especially Edward the long-suffering leading man with a big secret.
It starts off brilliantly with the great title track which is lyrically very sharp and nicely tuneful, enhanced by a witty video of the opening credits for the show which nails the windswept posing which makes them so ridiculously comical! When pursuing the soap side of things, this show is really very good and laugh-out-funny on a number of occasions. It mixes up the Acorn Antiques-style parody of comically bad soap acting with missed cues and overacting with the sheer ridiculousness of US daytime soap operas with their classic catfights, smell-the-fart acting, rapidly ageing child characters and their propensity for outrageously complex personal relationships.
It also borrows the device of portraying the actors playing the characters to show the neuroses of this group of actors who see their steady paycheck being threatened. The best songs are here, with witty group numbers (I particularly liked the female trio on Somebody’s Gonna Get Killed and the duo on Normal People) and powerhouse solos like Larger Than Life all having huge amounts of fun and genuine comedy that make it a delight to watch. Tara Hugo’s huge voice makes her performance as Stephanie the leading lady one of the highlights of the show but she is well matched by Joanne Heywood’s conniving Madison and Aimie Atkinson’s incredibly ditzy Brandy.
It is perhaps slightly less successful at mining its more serious storyline of its leading man struggling to deal with the stagnation of playing the same role for 30 years, all the while concealing his homosexuality. By comparison, these sections are relatively flat, too ballad heavy and don’t really build the requisite emotional engagement that is needed to stop you from wishing we were back in the comedy sections. Mark Inscoe does well with the material but I felt his perma-tanned Edward needed to be a stronger-drawn, more dramatic character in order to really capture the attention as a leading man and build up more passion and connection with the most handsome Tim Oxbrow as Daniel, the man who leads his journey out of the closet. And to be honest, there’s no new insight or believability in the way this gay storyline is played out which comes across as really quite dated.
It is a well-drilled company throughout though with no weak links: Rosalind Blessed is great fun as Frankie the producer brought in to improve the ratings; Davis Brooks’ dim and frequently shirtless hunk Ridge has excellent comic timing and from the front row, Ezra Axelrod caught my eye in a distractingly tight pair of trousers. Georgia Lowe’s set uses the same idea utilised in the NT’s Hamlet of movable panels to create a range of locations quickly quite effectively: I did think that it took too long to get them into place though, the whole show could be a lot tighter by speeding up these transitions, getting people to come onstage as others are leaving which would give more of a feel of a bustling tv studio. And I’m not sure the finale needed the simplistic choreography which looked a bit awkward and ultimately adds little to the situation.
Michael Bradley’s five man band played brightly if slightly overpoweringly at times, but overall the feeling was one of great confidence on all sides which bodes well for the run. Musically, Burn shows talent in writing a raft of interesting songs here and with his ear for a witty lyric, the upbeat numbers are just a delight. It is a tad solo-ballad-heavy for me and I longed for a little more vocal complexity with group numbers and harmonies but there is enough here to impress, not least in the effort that it must take to a get a new musical by a little-known writer produced in London and there are plenty of laughs in here to make this an enjoyable show.