Cockpit Theatre, London
Music, book and lyrics by Sam Cassidy
Music by Matt Wills
Co-directed by Arlene Phillips and Sam Cassidy
The premise behind 27 is both noble and tragic. Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin all died at that age and Sam Cassidy's musical seeks to explore some possible greater satanic force that robs the world of gifted talent at such a tender age.
It's a brave and ambitious venture from Cassidy and his co-tunesmith Matt Wills and of course the sheer hard work in writing a new musical is to be saluted. But whilst their show is glitzy, containing some stunning performance, dance and movement, the narrative for the most part is execrable and arguably, exploitative. When even the show's own programme spells Joplin's first name as Janice, the fates don't augur well.
The plot follows a fictitious rock star, stage named Orpheus who is the lead singer of his band The Argonauts. Notwithstanding some insultingly unsubtle hints that connect the story to Greek and other mythologies (act one could almost be re-named Orpheus On The Underground), we are invited to follow a Faustian pact that Orpheus signs with the Devil. He is granted world fame but it comes at the cost of uncontrollable substance abuse.
A show that could potentially have been a beautifully heartbreaking study into untimely death, in fact becomes a hybrid of Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus and Disney's Hercules but with less memorable songs. Oh, and there's just a twist of The Exorcist sprinkled over act two for good measure.
To be fair there's a moving epilogue that tantalisingly hints at the emotional depths that could have been plumbed - but for the most part 27 doesn't so much mark the loss of 4 rock legends as dance upon their graves in which they are quite possibly spinning.
There are some good bits. Greg Oliver battles with his ridiculously clichéd role, turning in a convincing and harrowing performance as the drug-addicted Orpheus. Ryan Molloy steals every scene as the Hades/Devil character, with an unbridled energy and that sensational voice. Cassie Compton who also only knows excellence shines as Amy, Orpheus' true love, whilst understudy on the night Erin Bell was fabulous in the Mephistophelean role of infernal temptress Ms. M. There's also eye-candy for all, with an ensemble clad for the most part in lashings of lingerie or spray-on leather. Brava Lucy Alexander for the stylish costume design.
The dance work choreographed by Ryan-Lee Seager and Lucy Martin is sensational and imaginative, perhaps to be expected with Arlene Phillips co-directing alongside Cassidy. Notwithstanding the story's flaws, the routines complement its outrageousness perfectly being cleverly conceived and meticulously rehearsed as Matt Nalton’s band produce a rock infused beat throughout.
The gifted Jodie Jacobs plays one of The Fates and that at times her voice was inaudible does not speak well of the show's sound design. Likewise the lavish lighting and set design (someone has invested a fortune in 27) failed to pick out the three Fates high above the action. Smoke and fancy spotlights, (hell, this Hell even has hydraulics) are all well and good, but when key characters can neither be seen nor heard, money's been wasted.
27 doesn't need work, so much as a total re-write. There may well be a beautiful show crying out to be written here, but this ain't it.
Runs to 22nd October
Photo credit: Nick Ross