Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s musical is a musical within a musical about writing a musical. In the same way as the characters in Friends become entangled in each other’s ridiculous ploys, Hunter, Jeff, Heidi and Susan (mutually dissatisfied with temp jobs, life in the chorus line or unemployment) compose an entry for The New York Musical Theatre Festival. Lacking in inspiration and time, they devise [Title of Show] entirely from the conversations they have and the inevitable procrastination that occurs during the creative process. The kooky songs reference themselves in the third person and, through subtle (and not so subtle) musical and lyrical referencing, musical theatre as a form is simultaneously celebrated and mocked.
Show-people and creative types will be able to identify with the dynamic of the young, hopeful writers and the hysteria that ensues when frustrated geniuses spend too long in a small room together; the unique concept is a musical theatre geek’s dream, but the novelty, after a while, begins to wear off leaving the audience hungry for substance. For example, the hostile, competitive relationship between the smart, sassy Susan (Sarah Galbraith) and the stagey, whacky Heidi (Sophia Ragavelas) is introduced yet never explored, as is the tantalisingly positioned romantic tension between Jeff and Hunter (Simon Bailey and Scott Garnham). The metatheatricality prevents the audience from truly connecting with the characters and consequently becomes irritating towards the middle of the one-act.
It is the accomplished, vibrant cast of four who carry the conversational, quippy show. The ensemble vocals are of the highest calibre and the characterisation is clear, if not radically interesting. The sonorous Galbraith doesn’t get much of an opportunity to demonstrate her vocal range here, but stands out for her commitment to the comedy, particularly in Die, Vampire, Die! Garnham, as Hunter, similarly nails the quick humour and makes light work of his challenging tenor part. Ragavelas impresses with one of the musical’s rare sincere numbers, ‘A Way Back to Then’ and Bailey confidently embodies the show’s composer, Jeff, who holds the impassioned team together (and is admirably pedantic about syntax).
London’s eclectic fringe is the ideal location for exploring the journey of a quirky, unbranded musical, but [Title of Show], despite consistently brilliant performances and beautiful work by Musical Director Michael Webborn, fails to reach beyond the limiting perimeters of the gimmick that frames it.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 14th September