“The public will like whatever I tell them to like”
If only the public were so gullible… New rock musical 27 has nearly completed a substantial run at the Cockpit Theatre so I took my time to see it, knowing that many a show that has described itself as a rock musical has proven not to be my cup of tea. And thus it turned out with Sam Cassidy and Matt Wills’ 27, a mishmash of classical and modern myths that ends up something of an unholy mess.
At the forefront, just about, is the story of Orpheus, reinterpreted here for the modern world as wannabe rocker Jason (with a band called the Argonauts…) who does a Faustian deal with the devil for instant fame (see what I mean about those influences…) but ends up chasing through the underworld to rescue his girlfriend who has succumbed to a drug overdose.
Jason, who has renamed himself Orpheus btw, is 27 at this point, which just happens to be the age Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse all were when they died, ultimately an uncomfortable contemporary allusion (and unnecessary narrative spoiler). Throw in a raft of random Shakespearean allusions, let Medusa pop in for a bit and stick in a pre-recorded rock track, and there you have 27.
The book is thus laboured and lazy, mistaking the incorporation of these references for depth instead of establishing its own story. Is Orpheus a genuine musical talent, or just a record label puppet? We never know (or really care). Equally, there’s little effort to make us like him as a musician as he only gets narrative songs rather than performance numbers, despite committed work from Greg Oliver’s Orpheus and Ryan Gibb and Jack Donnelly as his personable bandmates.
Cassidy co-directs, along with Arlene Phillips, so perhaps there’s little surprise at how much choreography is worked into the show but so much of it is superfluous, along with the overused, glaringly hot lighting design that feels like it is taking Orpheus literally when he says “it’s better to burn out than fade away”.