Prospective musical theatre companies have one of the toughest jobs in theatre. Awaiting them are painstaking script and score rewrites, opposition including national touring companies and big-budget crowd pleasers, and continuous efforts to avoid Broadway cliché which has turned the genre into a bit of a turgid experience. But Michael Richardson confidently builds on the early success of Green Room’s 2011 production, The Last Five Years, to offer up a similarly light-hearted one.
As with most musicals, New York is the setting for yuppie couple Claire and Jason (Caroline Hood and Michael Davies) to realise they might be right for each other after all, despite the fact they constantly argue… in song. Student Deb (Sarah Haddath) and cat-sitter Warren (Darren Niven) also realise they might click (but as friends), even if she is a bit up-tight and he a bit melodramatic.
In a sense, it’d be nice for a musical such as this to avoid the glitzy appeal of Empire City, as it’s a chestnut setting jam-packed with brazen metaphors for success, dreams and love. Having said that, setting it in the Sudan doesn’t quite have the same commercial appeal, so it’s forgivable. Flyposted with ‘share your life story’ signage, Cerin Richardson‘s simple boxed design discovers the playfulness of New York while keeping to a tight budget. Adam Gwon’s jaunty, odd-step melodies are catchy, fresh and really capture the spirit of bouncy high-end tunes we know from modern successes like Wicked and Avenue Q. Richardson’s production is a pleasantly cheerful, syrupy affair which paints how beauty can be found in metropolitan ordinariness. And in case you don’t get that from the title or characters, there are a couple of songs which spell it out. There’s a case to be made that the show could do a little more with this idea though; rather than offer up a view found in virtually every musical, it could rejuvenate the themes of friendship, love and stardom with more innovation.
The performances themselves are all pitched just right, with an exquisite balance between American cheesiness and quality vocals. Haddath and Hood stand out, particularly Haddath who gets some remarkably tough and wordy solos which she tames alongside a breathlessly comic routine. One scene in particular shows off the talent of the writing: when the characters are wandering around the Met, overlapping duets and clashing personalities really soar and boost the core magic of the production. In many ways, this show is exactly what a good musical should be: it’s energetic, playful and a lot of fun, and with a little more experimentation, this company will soon be performing on a much bigger stage.
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