The Route to Happiness, presented at the Landor theatre as part of Aria Entertainment’s ambitious season of new musical theatre writing, is a qualified triumph.
There are flaws in the piece – mainly the entirely sung-through nature of the show sacrifices character development for intelligent harmonies, and leaves the three actors periodically adrift in a sheen of broad caricature. While elsewhere, composer/lyricist Alexander S. Bermange is keen to display his wit and dexterity with language, too frequently overburdening the oftentimes lightweight melodies with verbose linguistic fireworks. That said, there are more than enough flashes of lyrical brilliance to compensate for the occasional gauche turn of phrase.
The score is dextrous and, at times, muscular, demonstrating an exceptional understanding of the structure of a musical and comprehension of the complexities of the voice. The second act provides some stand-out musical theatre set pieces, which are lacking from the first.
Robert McWhir, as director, exhibits his customary flair for bringing cogency and detail to musical theatre and, in the simple staging, he focusses as much attention on the characters as the piece can bear.
With some polish and development this may well turn out to be a delicious curio that will shine beautifully
Navigating their way through a rather obvious storyline – three souls searching for happiness; desirous of one resolution that will bring them inner peace and arriving (some fifteen songs later) at the conclusion that the route to happiness lies elsewhere – the production benefits from some top musical theatre talent. Cassidy Janson’s Trinity, seeking fame at any cost, discovers that any cost may be a cost too great, while Shona White’s lovelorn Lorna realises that single-life may hold the key to her peace of mind. Only Niall Sheehy’s money-loving Marcus seems unresolved. It is not clear precisely what conclusion his character has come to.
White and Janson imbue their characters with as much depth as the thin characterisation allows them, creating people we almost care about. Janson is a gifted comedienne and White steals the lion’s share of the melodies. Vocally both are rich and textured. With only a deeply unpleasant character to work with, Sheehy fails to engage the audience dramatically, or to match the prowess of his co-stars, but he is equipped with a beautiful lyrical tenor, and copes proficiently with the most complex vocal line.
The piece is over-extended somewhat and still needs judicious dramaturgy and finesse, but there is outstanding potential here. At the moment it is something of a Christmas bauble – beautiful and delicate but hollow. With some polish and development this may well turn out to be a delicious curio that will shine beautifully. Aria Entertainment have unearthed something quite special.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 24th February