Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre

“It’s not what I expected.
Is it what you expected?”

I doubt it was fully the intention of bookwriter Adam Mathais and composer Brad Alexander to suggest Dante’s circles of hell in the unconnected stories of their song cycle See Rock City And Other Destinations but there are moments when it might feel like it. The show purports to show vignettes of people searching for the meaning of life and love against the backdrop of different US landmarks with no real connection between them all save the shadowy presence of the Tour Guide, lurking at each scene.

In reality, we get fragments of stories accompanied by a handful of songs each which a youthful company try their hardest to make register but few really succeed. They’re hardly helped by a format which allows so short a time to establish their characters and a score which seems intent mainly on showcasing a wide range of musical styles rather than really forming any sort of narrative push or wider coherence to the scattered storytelling. Nor does Graham Hubbard’s direction really help us to find any connective tissue that might help the piece hang together more effectively.

Glimmers shine through in some of the performances: Nancy Sullivan’s pie-purloining waitress is an appealing presence in the opening segment; the G&S-aping squabbling sisters on an Alaskan cruise to scatter their dad’s ashes hint at interesting characters; and Joshua LeClair’s recently-dumped UFO-hunting geek finds a real emotional punch but one which is shattered by the baffling decision to further fragment his storyline in amongst the others. But every time one gets an inkling of who these people might be and what they might want, it’s time to descend to the next circle.

The chopping and changing does however mean nothing lingers too long: a misguided sequence at the Alamo flounders in its oddness; the tussling preppy schoolboys who play hooky at Coney Island and end up getting the willies in the haunted house, quite literally, suffer from being entirely too predictable though Barney Glover and Richard Dawes infuse much energy into their work; and it’ll take a saint’s patience not to shove the runaway bride at Niagara Falls into a barrel yourself during the overlong final section. Matt Ramplin’s musical direction has its moments but in the face of some uneven vocal performances, is often struggling for balance.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 30th August
Photo: Claire Bilyard

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