“Now this is what you wanted, all the frolics and the frenzy”
Tucked away in Shoreditch is Hoxton Hall, a Victorian music hall which now serves as a hub for much community arts work in the local area and now brings the London premiere of the musical Bright Lights, Big City. Set in New York in 1984, the story concerns a writer called Jamie whose response to a number of setbacks is to throw himself headlong into a life of debauchery. Struggling to deal with the recent death of his mother and with the reality of his wife leaving him, hard partying and taking drugs leads to him losing his job too and it is only with the persistent efforts of those who love him, can he find his way back to normality.
Performances across the ensemble are strong: Jodie Jacobs (with some seriously amazing crimped hair and who is appearing in her third musical in as many months!) and Rachel Wooding stood out for me, George Maguire’s Tad is a convincing Pied Piper-like figure leading Jamie astray and Rietta Austin’s vocal performance was most impressive. As Jamie himself, Paul Ayres does well vocally with a character who’s rarely offstage but could do with working a little more charm into his naïveté, elevating him slightly out of the everyman role as befits a leading man.
Fabian Aloise’s choreography is good energetic fun especially in evoking the scenes of debauchery in nightclubs and Christopher Lane’s direction does keep things skipping along at a pretty pace with a convincing and authentic-feeling slick 80s sheen. However, I wasn’t really convinced of the strengths of the material. Paul Scott Goodman hasn’t really engaged with the emotional depth necessary to make us care for his protagonists with an underdeveloped plot that rarely digs deep, something that the sung-through aspect does not help with. Both musically and lyrically this is a largely undistinguished work, never really grabbing the attention or sticking in the mind as the onslaught of style after style means little coherence is built up as we flit quickly to the next song.
At 80 minutes long, this is not a show that outstays its welcome, indeed the effervescence of the highly talented cast makes it fairly fly by in an entertaining manner and any show that brings attention to this under-used London venue should be applauded. It’s just that one can’t help but think that this cast, production team and venue deserve a more memorable show.