Review: USHERS: The Front of House Musical, The Other Palace

There’s a cheerily good time to be had with a great cast at USHERS: The Front of House Musical at The Other Palace

“I’m a bit of a Jonathan Bailey bitch”

It premiered as one of the Hope Theatre’s first ever shows back in late 2013 and now, USHERS: The Front of House Musical is marking its 10th anniversary with a revival at The Other Palace’s Studio. Gently lampooning the world of musical theatre by following a front of house staff team working through a shift on the latest show to open at their theatre, Max Reynolds’ superbly cast production maintains USHERS‘ charm.

The theatre landscape has naturally somewhat changed in the intervening decade and James Rottger’s book has been updated somewhat to reflect this – the original Britney jukebox musical has now become Love Island: The Musical – and the script has been peppered with right-up-to-the-minute references that include Opening Night’s closing notices and Tom Frances’ performance of Sunset Boulevard at the Oliviers. The light-hearted nature of the show does mean though that there’s no room to interrogate the seeming shift in audience behaviour for the worst, especially post-pandemic.

What we have instead is a series of light-touch storylines for our titular ushers. Recent drama school graduate Lucy (Danielle Rose) is just starting her first day on the job and is immediately smitten by Stephen (Christopher Foley), back as an usher after touring the country in a show. Gary (Cleve September) and Ben (Luke Bayer) are a couple struggling with the former booking a year long contract in Austria. And self-titled ‘stagey ninja’ Rosie (Bethany Amber-Perrins) is just delighted to be close to the leading men she adores slash stalks. Watching over them all is despotic theatre manager and frustrated opera singer Robin Poketts (Daniel Page), urging them to milk the audience for every penny possible.

Dramatically, it is probably all a bit thin but then detailed characterisation has never really been the point here. It’s a vehicle for a raft of theatrical in-jokes from the obvious (Bad Cinderella) to the more obscure (I wonder what percentage of the audience have heard of Selladoor…). And the cast have a ball with them, alongside a suite of decent songs from Yiannis Koutsakos, at their strongest when spoofing other genres, as in Amber-Perrins’ hilarious Chicago-style number, choreographer Adam Haigh delivering a masterclass in how to work with limited space on this intimate studio stage.

Reynolds’ direction also acknowledges this well, frequently allowing the action to spread out into the audience (though stopping short of direct interaction) and the over-riding sense of fun easily carries the day – the corporate instructional videos from Page’s Poketts really are amusing. Getting to hear the likes of Bayer and September belt their hearts out and croon together up close and personal also ups the ante, performances across the board are strong and not even a little corpsing can throw them too much off track.

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