Thursday, 8 June 2017

Bromance - Review

Studio Theatre,  Henley On Thames


Music, lyrics and book by Kyle Ewalt and Michael Ian Walker
Directed by Sarah Redmond

The cast of Bromance
On for one week only Bromance, a new musical from the Americans Kyle Ewalt and Michael Ian Walker played to a packed venue at Henley's intimate Studio Theatre.

With a story that, in principle, is timeless Bromance is all about the beer, the ball games and the bravado that fuels male bonding. Tom Dick and Harry are three buddies whose friendship exists (or 'should' exist) to the exclusion of all others. Their rituals and banter are a deliciously, politically incorrect display of touching loyalty, misplaced bravado and bungling ineptitude. There's a hint of the Guys And Dolls trio of Nathan Detroit, Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson to their friendship, for theirs is a longstanding and well tested relationship in a world that has (or appears to have) little regard for the finer emotional sensitivities of women and yet, as the evolves, is unable to exist without female wisdom. 

Rituals are crucial to the Bros' co existence - St Patrick's Day (Paddy's Day) is observed religiously as is the Super Bowl along with, for these three guys at least, an obsessive devotion to the Patrick Swayze / Keanu Reeves action / buddy movie, Point Break. And everything, of course, is driven by alcohol.

Into this band of brothers wanders Marty. He's Jewish, from out of town, rebounding from a girlfriend he's just broken up with, and desperate for friendship. He's also (at first) a bit of a nebbish so not only is he alone, he's also an outsider. Bromance's thrust is to follow the impact of Marty's arrival on the gang of three, his evolving friendship with Dick (that prompts a jealous response from both Tom and Harry) before finishing off with a deliriously happy ending.

For the most part, the beer-fuelled story works. What makes this particular production thrive however is the vision of director Sarah Redmond, and the cracking work she's coaxed from her quintet of performers. Liam Ross-Mills works well as Marty, displaying a convincing naïveté, backed up by some gorgeously well balanced vocal work. As Tom, and in his first professional gig, Glen Newham turns in a performance that has us believing in his engagement to the long suffering Colleen. The show is choreographed by Christian Valle and to be fair, Newham’s footwork is fabulous.

There are a number of comic treats to the night, not least with David Zachary's Harry, whose piano-playing solo Heartburn, sung in despair as he sees his friendships fading all around him is a blast.  Australian Robbie Smith’s Dick is similarly impressive. Smith nails Dick's handsome bum with a swagger that is as infectious as it is ultimately vulnerable. All four guys are great.

Arguably the star turn(s) of the night however rests with Rebecca Hazel, who amidst rapid fire costume and wig changes, plays ALL 5 (!) of the show's female characters. Hazel is sensational, with her worldly wise barmaid Tina offering just a hint of Jessica Mueller's Donna from Waitress, while her take on Sanchez (aka the SheBro) a sleazy croupier who doubles as a stunt pilot is a turn that is as manic as it is seductively masterful.

The whole show played to an audience sat at tables throughout and amidst Dan Gillingwater’s simply ingenious take on a small town American bar, dominated by a screen showing football games. As both mise en scene and a backdrop, it worked well. The score is a pastiche of ballad /country /rock, with Andy Smith directing his four piece band perfectly.

It's been a bold move to stage Bromance out of town. Redmond has done some fine work here and the show certainly deserves a transferred life to within the M25!

Reviewed by Gary Moore

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