“We can’t just keep adding in everything that happens to us…”
The very thing that makes [title of show] uniquely entertaining is also the thing that limits it to a niche-shaped bubble which never really takes flight. It’s a fringe-theatregoer’s delight, a meta-theatrical concoction aimed squarely at fans of the genre and so laden with references, in-jokes and geek-outs that it is hard to imagine your everyday audience member getting that much pleasure out of it. Which is why it is very well suited to the Landor, one of London’s hotspots for small-scale musicals yet hardly that well known amongst the wider public and yet even there, didn’t have the full house one might have expected (at least on this night).
The show is, and pay attention, a musical within a musical about writing a musical – Hunter, Jeff, Heidi and Susan are dissatisfied with their mundane lives and so set about putting together something to submit to The New York Musical Theatre Festival but lacking any kind of inspiration, they simply use their struggle to come up with a musical as a subject for a musical. It’s simpler than it sounds and while it is still fresh, the concept is an engaging and highly amusing one which riffs off, parodies, fanboys, satirises and downright copies all kinds of aspects of musical theatre, even adapting its topical references to shows just opened in the West End.
So far so funny, and the cast of four – Scott Garnham, Simon Bailey, Sophia Ragavelas and Sarah Galbraith – get their performances spot on with their genial wit and endearing warmth. Their vocals and harmonies sound pin sharp in Robert McWhir’s production and the simple design keeps the focus where it needs to be. But the show is essentially just one extended gag and it gets increasingly clever-clever, which was a source of frustration for me. For all that the show embraced its stereotypical use of women as window-dressing, the huge talent of Sarah Galbraith thus goes pretty much wasted – only in show highlight Die, Vampire, Die! is she permitted to do what she does best.
And the other characters suffer too from the distancing effect of the concept, I longed for some kind of emotional engagement aside from laughter and it never really came. And Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s (see how adventurous they were with the characters’ names ;-)) music and lyrics doesn’t always have the depth of quality to set it apart from other experimental shows, it palpably feels like a show that has been reworked and had new endings patched onto it and so lacks coherence especially towards the end. But for all my criticism, I did enjoy myself for the most part, I was just left questioning who this show was for and why it had been put on in the broader scheme of things.