If you can comprehend the concept of a musical about a musical that is being written as the musical is going on, then you will just about be able to get your head around [title of show].
A complex set-up, but with possibly the simplest staging of any show that has come from Broadway, [title of show] is the story of two men who want to write a musical to submit for a festival, but not knowing what to write about, decide to write exactly what they are doing at the time. Jeff (Simon Bailey) and Hunter (Scott Garnham) convince their friends Susan (Sarah Galbraith) and Heidi (Sophie Ragaveles) to star in their musical, with every subsequent discussion being included as part of the book, and songs being musical interludes.
[title of show] is one of those rare gems you find on the London theatre scene – completely off-the-wall, impossible to wrap your head around, but one of the most beautiful, compelling and honest shows you will find, as well as being hilarious and well-acted, but that’s a given.
Ok so the plot takes a while to be understood, because it requires the ability to view the events from a non-linear time perspective. Because [title of show] is about what actually happened when Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell decided to enter the New York Musical Theatre Festival (2004), and the events that followed as it hit off-Broadway in 2006 and Broadway in 2008, it takes a little getting used to seeing the events actually unroll in front of the audience’s eyes. Conversations like “is this going in the show”, “yes”, “and this?”, “and this!”, are commonplace, with a particularly funny reference to addresses making a running joke. There are also points of uncertainty as those who may not have a particularly good knowledge about American culture might get lost in the jokes – this was intended for a New York audience, not London, but why should they try and change everything just to appeal to a different country’s audience?
The best thing about [title of show] is undoubtedly the music, and Jeff should be commended for coming up with such an original score, yet having, according to the events of the show (if they are true – insert philosophical debate here), the humility to ask actors in the piece to come up with material for it. Very few composers, in my experience, have that kind of attitude, much less stick it on stage as part of their theatre debut. We particularly loved ‘Die Vampire Die’, a must-listen-to song for anyone who is stuck trying to break into the career field that they wish to be working in, as its inspiration relates to (without trying to sound corny) anyone who is following a dream.
There are a couple of nitty things that do have to be mentioned about [title of show] though. Landor Theatre, whilst being an excellent space, is so unsuited for [title of show] it is not even funny. We aren’t sure how many revisions the text went through, but judging from the material presented, the final version and the one being played at the moment was amended slightly for a Broadway stage, and it comes through in the music, the choreography and the acting. Landor has no stage, and the front row of the audience are literally two feet away from the actors. [title of show] was built for a bigger space, and maybe something like Leicester Square Theatre would have been a better idea.
Simon and Scott managed that tricky balance of acting gay, but not stereotyping it too much, which we appreciated, and Sarah and Sophia managed to uphold the frenemies aspect we suspect may be inherent in the relationship between Susan and Heidi. There was an issue, and I’m not sure whether it is Sarah’s ability or the position we were sitting in the audience, but her voice kept getting lost as the lowest female vocalist, which is a shame because she has a beautiful set of pipes.
I definitely want to see this again, and can’t wait to hear that [title of show] has made it to the West End. It deserves to, and if its New York successes are anything to go by, it shouldn’t be long before this is touring internationally. More ambitious than Wicked!, but with less green, [title of show] is the next Chorus Line, revealing what really happens behind the scenes of the theatre world, without the technicality of Smash.
[title of show] is at the Landor Theatre until September 14th. Buy tickets from their website.