Review: Frank’s Closet, Union Theatre

15 years later, I enjoy a return to the diva-tastic Frank’s Closet, now playing at the Union Theatre

“Mother always said I lived in a fantasy world”

I have to admit to a great fondness for Frank’s Closet, having been charmed by the show when I saw it as a baby blogger 15 years ago at Hoxton Hall – an evening capped off by sharing a bowl of chips with Paul Daniels and The Lovely Debbie McGee (who was in the show’s company) in the pub opposite afterwards. Stuart Wood’s (book, music and lyrics) 2009 musical now returns, this time at the Union Theatre and whilst there may not have been chips, there was certainly still charm.

We meet Frank on the eve of his wedding to Alan, as he’s packing up his historical archive of gorgeous gowns to send to the V&A. This he is doing after an ultimatum from his intended but as he browses through these reminders of his past, he questions whether he’s really ready to give up the single life. To help him with the decision, he retreats into his closet and is visited by the owners of those dresses – divas like Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Agnetha Fältskog and more – all with a witty song and morsels of advice that may or may not be actually of any use.

Sasha Regan’s production fully embraces the cheerfully camp vibe of the show right from the off. Paul Toulson’s Sheila Blige kicks things off in the bar, setting a nicely vaudevillean tone with some risqué songs and humour and then we’re whisked into the auditorium where Catherine Phelps’ design transports us to the world of the music hall where so much of Frank’s psyche seems to reside. Frank is accompanied there by the fabulous Gaiety Girls (Oliver Bradley-Taylor, Sarah Freer, Olivia McBride and Jack Rose), a chorus of showgirls who never met an ostrich feather or a kickline they didn’t like, and Luke Farrugia’s shapeshifting Diva.

Farrugia really does deliver a phenomenal performance as he quick-changes from, deep breath, Marie Lloyd to Julie Andrews to Ethel Merman to Karen Carpenter to Judy Garland to Agnetha Fältskog to Dusty Springfield, delivering a corking original song as each as well. Supported by the imagination of Steven Metcalfe’s costume design (those swans are still wild!), Farrugia offers up a real tour-de-force. Against that, Andy Moss’ Frank inevitably has to play the straight man (fnarr fnarr) which he does with real pathos but you do wish that he had more help dramaturgically, short snippets of phone calls with his loved ones plus brief reminiscences of the past don’t quite give us enough of a portrait of our leading man.

From the overture (and how nice to have an overture in a new(ish) musical), Anto Buckley’s musical direction from the keys is accomplished as we skip through many a genre (disco Merman is the undoubted winner) and with trumpet and trombone playing along, there’s a freshness to the sound that makes it stand out (I clearly need more brass in my life). Overall, the feel is almost old-fashioned in its nostalgia but there’s such warmth in its heart that it is easy to just jump back in that closet with Frank and wonder what would Judy (and Karen, and Ethel etc etc) do.

1 thought on “Review: Frank’s Closet, Union Theatre

  1. Thank you, so much for your review. I appreciate your words and please come back – running until April 13th and at Wilton’s Music Hall in September – I will keep you posted.

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