“We’ll make it”
Over the next month, Aria Entertainment and the Landor Theatre in South London are hosting a whole season dedicated to new musical theatre writing – From Page to Stage – which features showcases, works-in-progress and workshops from a wide range of writers from across the globe. The programme also includes this world premiere of The Route to Happiness, a new intimate three-hander from Alexander S Bermange which runs for a week. And as befits a season of this nature, the show marks an interesting progression for Bermange as a writer, though not one without its challenges, and offers a brilliant showcase for some of our excellent talent.
The Route to Happiness opens with three Londoners having their respective dreams of love and marriage, unlimited wealth and enduring fame dashed by circumstances and follows them on their attempts to build their hopes back up and get back in pursuit of the things that they think will make them happiest. So former banker Marcus seizes the opportunity to manage wannabe celebrity Trinity despite her lack of obvious talent, whilst also romancing author Lorna after an impromptu meeting at a wedding where she believes she may finally have found the one.
Bermange’s previous writing has drawn heavily on the 80s and 90s musicals of his youth and his sweeping balladry and stirring anthems can be sampled on an extraordinarily well-cast CD of his songs Act One. And he indulges this in writing a similar suite of songs for Lorna, played here with full-throated verve by Shona White, whose determination to cling on to the hope of love seemingly drives her every move. There’s a strong comic edge to his writing too which comes out best in the gentle teasing of dim wannabe It-girl Trinity, unwilling and unable to accept that fame might not happen for her but given a beautiful warmth by Cassidy Janson, surely one of our strongest musical theatre actresses.
And in the avaricious Marcus, Bermange stretches himself with a new mode of writing for him, a more modern and complex style which complements the other two both in forming a separate musical identity for the character and in creating a fascinatingly multi-layered sound in the group numbers, full of interesting harmonies. Niall Sheehy manages the often discordant lines of Marcus competently but struggles to make him a really engaging character and here, it is clear that the book needs a little more attention.
There isn’t a sufficient depth of character to sustain the show over its current length – all three protagonists are overly focused on a single emotional note and the lack of deviation leads to a slight weariness by the end. And though Bermange’s song-writing is never in question, the incorporation of passages of sung dialogue sit awkwardly in amongst the rest, somewhat disrupting the cohesive flow of the material. But there’s much to enjoy here, not least the top-quality unmiked singing, Bermange’s accompaniment from the piano with Justin Homewood on bass and Robert McWhir’s clear-sighted direction which sees the Landor stripped back most effectively.