(Seen at the preview performance on 29th November 2012)
This is a strange combination of straight drama, multi-media display and musical
theatre, in that order. In line with current trends, a cinematic approach sees
scenes framed by borders / augmented by projections (including a final
‘montage’) and the whole played at a pace somewhere between live and recorded
There’s a decent enough story, and enough twists to keep those (like
the monkey) who had never seen the film, guessing. The problem is in the label
“musical.” Songs from the original film soundtrack are dotted among scenes,
often failing to do the vital job of “driving the action forwards.”
Even stranger, the placement is so random that sometimes the whole show
pauses, while at other times - when the show could do with a song (particularly
an original number) - the opportunity is missed.
The result is an uneven evening, but still with plenty to like. It’s nicely
staged, Tim Hatley scoring particularly heavily by managing to conceal a major
piece of scenery until late in the second half, and pulling off a corny
so-old-it’s-new-again climactic sequence with aplomb.
The songs used are also fine – can’t beat a bit of Dolly Parton - and
delivered with a sincerity overcoming volume by Gloria Onitiri (Heather Headley
being absent the night the monkey reviewed it) and Debbie Kurup as sisters in
love with the same man. There are also neat performances by a child actor (the
show’s PR didn’t get back to the monkey with the name) as her young son, and a
chance to hear Ray “Starlight” Shell sing a little too. Lloyd Owen turns in the
best performance he can too, given the script, and his “I Will Always Love You”
will linger in the memory like a dodgy curry for weeks.
A little more humour wouldn’t have gone amiss, particularly in the struggling
first 40 minutes or so, when it was hardest to like the characters or care what
happened. It took until a moment that a song did “drive the story’ to break
through, but once that happened, the whole managed – a few too many “stop, we
need to sing” moments aside - to motor well enough along.
The monkey would, though, drop the obnoxious finale - requiring the audience
to stand to catch the final ten minutes. Just for the record, the monkey hands
out “standing ovations” only when earned; and that's as rarely as it hands its
cheque account details to “African Fund Transfer” websites.
Not a show for Sondheim fans, nor the Rogers and Hammerstein brigade. This is
for occasional theatregoers wanting a light evening out that “looks worth the
price of a ticket” with satisfyingly “X Factor circa 2005” tunes and the belting
performances to match. Hen parties, second dates or just for a light night out,
this fits the bill pretty well.