Tuesday, 13 August 2013

[title of show]

Landor Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by Robert McWhir

(l-r) Sophia Ragavelas, Simon Bailey, Sarah Galbraith and Scott Garnham

One of the most talked about arrivals on London's fringe, [title of show] opens at that powerhouse of musical theatre, Clapham's Landor. Using the modern buzz-phrase, it is a "meta-musical" (a show that is written around the business of shows), about two guys who write a musical and the two actresses who hang with them and inspire them through the show's development. Musicals don't come more "meta" than this and [title of show] isn’t so much a show that eats itself, as a one that gives birth to itself. The plot is a broad representation of the two writers’ real life journey, composing an entry for a musical theatre competition and their story is one long, knowingly wry, look at the harsh aspects of both writing for and acting on, the musical stage.

By its very nature, the plot would suggest echoes of Merrily We Roll Along, recently seen at London’s Menier and then in the West End. In fact, the only similarity between this show and that Sondheim piece is the outstanding quality of the actors. McWhir's cast is only four strong, but he has selected some of London's finest talent who offer a masterclass in comedic musical theatre. Perfect harmonies, solos, duets and meticulously rehearsed ensemble work are a joy to behold. But where Sondheim's piece focused on the human frailties of vanity and greed in show biz, [title of show] is a far lighter piece, sometimes perhaps too light, that is no more than a sharply written piece of satire, often brilliant even if occasionally over-indulgent and shallow.

Simon Bailey and Scott Garnham play the real life writing duo of Hunter and Jeff respectively. Where Hunter is more the creative spark of the pair, Jeff who by is own admission spends too much time "procrastibating" either watching old TV series or porn, is quite the creative muse for the partnership. These two talented actors are wonderful with spot on timing, both in synchronised harmony and in working the script’s gags. They are a sublime double act and their take on the early number, Two Nobodies In New York suggests the potential of a modern day pairing to match that of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr. Maybe a future cabaret idea perhaps…

Sophia Ragavelas and Sarah Galbraith are Heidi and Susan the working/aspiring actresses who share the journey of the show's evolution. Susan introduces herself as a "corporate whore" resting from the stage as she works an office job. There isn't a weak song in the show, but her leading of the cast in Die,Vampire Die, an outpouring of hate against ne'ersayers, critics and her own personal self doubt is a glorious turn from the talented young American. Where Galbraith is a former Disney princess, Ragavelas is clearly current MT royalty with Fantine and Eponine already under the corsetry of her career. The expectations that surround her performance are consequently sky-high and you know what? She doesn’t just meet expectations she smashes them. This diminutive actress’ poise, presence and pitch are perfection and her solo I Am Playing Me is simply a treat.

As always, that inspired combo of Robbie O Reilly’s choreography with McWhir’s perceptive eye for nuance and interpretation, make for a polished production, with credit to Michael Webborn on piano and shaker and who also gives a very convincing turn as Larry the inner-show’s MD. That this creative team, enhanced by Ben Newsome’s casting, have assembled such a stellar company speaks volumes for their reputation and ability.

The in-jokes are frequent but not overpowering and there is more than enough witty meat on the bones of this show to please any lover of musicals, not just those “stagey-folk” connected with the industry. Go see [title of show]. To quote Sondheim : “It’s a hit!”

Runs until 14th September

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