Theatre, Musicals & Concerts – Views & Reviews
The tiny studio space above the Landor pub in Clapham is the perfect setting for this “original broadway musical about two guys writing a musical” – the auditorium has just sixty seats across three rows, and with only a piano and a few bits of furniture scattered in front of white painted brick walls it feels like we’ve walked in on the characters at work.
The story mirrors the reality that brought this musical into being – Jeff and Hunter are struggling for ideas for material to enter the upcoming New York Musical Theatre Festival, and during their writer’s block notice that the conversations they are having about what to write are more interesting than any of the material they’ve written so far. They enlist their friends Heidi and Susan to help, who in turn become characters in their musical. The only person onstage who doesn’t seem to be part of the story is the pianist and Musical Director Larry – until they acknowledge this which makes him a part of the story. When filling in their festival entry form (in a song called “Filling in the Form”, of course) they decide to leave the space marked “[title of show]” as it stands.
At the hands of lesser writers this could quite easily have become so arch and knowing that it would seem snide, but the cast are so warm and energetic that they make the charming book, music and lyrics shine through – it’s not a satire, it’s a hymn to the creative process with a few pops at the flops along the way. There are so many references to musical theatre – both lyrically and through a few ‘stolen’ musical phrases – that I defy anyone to spot them all in a single sitting. I expect any music scholars, actors or others in the business would find it even more rich through references to the technical aspects of writing music and lyrics.
The songs are catchy and witty, and combined with the book have an inspiring message at their heart. MD and pianist Michael Webborn is a delight to listen to, his playing sharing the same animated enthusiasm as the cast. Simon Bailey and Scott Garnham have an immediate likability that keeps the audience rooting for them to succeed. Sophia Ragavelas and Sarah Galbraith have fine voices and, despite being “Secondary Characters” (as their duet defines them) are an integral part of the show.
The original Broadway cast – the actual creators of the show – were planning to bring [title of show] to the West End in 2011, and plans resurfaced again for 2013, but this seems even less likely now with this London premiere and a separate production happening at the same time in the Edinburgh Fringe. Either way, I would recommend catching this production if you can as the cast are exceptional and the setting keeps the audience connected in a way that a larger West End stage might not.
“[title of show]” is playing at the Landor Theatre until 14 September – tickets available via landortheatre.co.uk.
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Director – Robert McWhir
Musical Director – Michael Webborn
Choreographer – Robbie O’Reilly