Review: [title of show], Above the Stag

Four cracking performances make [title of show] a musical highlight of the month at the Above the Stag Theatre, more than holding its own with the West End

“A musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”

In a month full of major West End musicals opening, [title of show] is a glorious example that bigger isn’t always better. In the studio at the Above the Stag Theatre, something special is on offer, perfectly suited to the intimacy of the space and highlighting some pretty serious musical theatre talent about which we should be shouting as loud as we do those with their faces on billboards on the Strand.

Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen’s (music and lyrics) meta-musical of musical theatre injokes as it depicts two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. And looking for inspiration, they decide to write a show about two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, using their own words verbatim and bringing two friends onboard as well. 

But as self-referential as it gets, Robert McWhir’s production here succeeds so well because it has such a human focus. Michael Vinsen’s Hunter is the powerhouse of inspiration against Jordan Fox’s more internalised enthusiasm but together they’re a winning combination, full of the natural ease of long friendship but also the complicating factors that come with big changes. Its a pairing of real affection that you could watch for days.

Natalie Williams and Kirby Hughes naturally have less to do but both leave no less vivid an impression with their contrasting portrayals of working life as an actor. And creatively, there’s lots more to enjoy. Stewart J Charlesworth’s design gets it just right, right down to costumes that emphasise all the best assets, Jack Weir’s lighting works well to shape the action, and Associate MD Oli George Rew is a rather adorable presence from the piano as Larry, when the union allows him to speak that is.

So a winner all-round then, not least for those four West End-quality performances which are happening practically in your lap. Bear this in mind when you’re next contemplating paying £45 to sit on the very back row of the Savoy…

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (with interval)
Photos: PBG Studios
[title of show] is booking at the Above the Stag Theatre until 10th March

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