(seen at the first ticketed workshop performance on 6th September 2023)
THIS BLOG ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.
In South Africa, Australia and other countries where deep mines operate, sometimes large slightly shiny rocks are dug up. For several years thereafter, experts gather around the lump, a million scans are taken and even more arguments are had.
Finally the day comes where the first laser or saw is applied and we catch a glimpse of the glorious diamond which will emerge once even more careful discussion and debate has taken place.
This was one of those times.
As Lucy Moss explained in her welcoming pre-show speech, what we were about to see was the very first public ticketed outing of this new musical from the creators of “Six.” A few numbers had been revealed to a select few at “Crazy Coqs” cabaret club a while back, but this was the real thing.
Done without scenery, full stage costumes or lighting changes (Lucy hoped we’d like the ones we got) but with plenty of props and gallons of energy, it was a chance for Moss and Marlow to see how it all worked on a stage – and for us as an audience to get a glimpse of the future.
A lengthy introductory voice-over with two actors wearing masks set up the story about a pair of musical theatre writers commissioned to create a new show – and confining themselves to a flat for the night to discuss their lives and futures.
Over the course of a single evening they confront their pasts, delving into the world of post-university dating, the meaning of friendship and the pain of the creative process. Most of all it is about love in all forms, and how to find the right person by asking the question, “why am I so single?”
Joe Foster is Oliver, wearing a fabulous “Off-Duty Supermodel” dress which has to survive workshop as their full show outfit. Compassionate and self-aware, they have the deepest empathy for lovelorn friend and collaborator Nancy (Christina Bennington), whose abandonment issues stem from early life tragedy.
Other key character Faye Gin (Millie O’Connell) gets a great act one café moment with Nancy, and the first stunningly created big dance number choreographed by Ellen Kane. Think “Strictly” on steroids and you are close – lucky the studio is made for dance as one false step on a sloped stage and the night’s performance ends in a fleet of ambulances.
The first half is as a creative endeavour would be. A meander of ideas and procrastination which goes on for over eighty minutes. Luckily it is seldom dull. Once we are introduced to the amusing reasons behind the character names and never meet Nancy’s horrible ex Charles Dickhead, we are drawn in.
There’s a hymn to the meaning of “Friends.” No, not friends, “Friends” – as in Rachel and Joey and company (impersonated very well by the, er, company).
There’s a “Wicked” moment which must stay in the final show, Kane surpassing herself in creativity very early on, and a fab bottle moment too.
And most of all there is a bee in flat full of terrified furniture. It worked brilliantly without much scenery, and will be the show-stopping first act closer when given the extra equipment.
Truthfully, this first act does run somewhat too long. The prologue could be telescoped to four lines projected on a front-cloth, and we could pick up the action in the flat with the two friends on their sofa for the first number.
One line is unfortunate, “he died of bees, not really it was cancer” was intended as setting up something later but misses the mark. There is a much funnier joke to be had – “he died of Bee M. W. / a Bee P tanker / a B.H.S. van” could all be used instead perhaps.
We do have a little too much floundering, repeating the singledom issue frequently without moving on quickly enough to open up to us who the characters are. Still, a doorbell rings and we wait fifteen minutes to find out who it is...
Fortunately, it is explanations and insights arriving in a torrent.
The second half is easily the stronger - with some numbers perhaps needing to part-migrate to act one to explain things sooner.
A pretty funny Noah Thomas moment and nod to “Jesus Christ Superstar” sets up a rollicking flashback “S.N.O.G.G.E.D” of happy / unhappy student memories and first meetings.
“There’s No Question” is a number that assures us things will work out, but a ‘call-back’ to the “Friends” act one sequence is a rather too lengthy bridge to where this show’s magic really begins to coalesce.
The terrifically performed “Disco Ball” glitters on all facets, dancers surrounding Oliver, Foster left red-faced and puffing with exertion (they’ll do themselves a mischief doing that eight times a week, so be careful!).
With the future promising light, it follows that a rollicking rock number, “Men Are Trash” must follow – it does, until Charles calls Nancy bang not on cue and Oliver is left wondering “I Thought She Would Stay” as she answers his call.
In true “Friends” style, and Easyjet-colour jacket / umbrella combination (another keeper, surely, for the real show), Nancy returns and Bennington delivers (as only Bennington knows how) the knockout punch number “Somewhere Out There, Lost” about a grey pullover... her father...
It somehow sums up the entire work. The emotional arc of the show is not obviously demonstrative as a glitterball – that’s a distractor. In fact, it is in knitwear, sneaking up on the audience so that when the duo launch into “I’d Do Anything” you know that they would, and when they end on “let me tell you our love story” it is one we have heard, empathise with and find we care deeply for.
The trademark wit and unexpected invention of Marlow & Moss is present and correct as in their previous work. The ‘book’ is a real “first cut” – readable but ready for the editor to finalise.
They can bury easily the frequent strong language which is mostly not required. The music, once fully scored and orchestrated, will be even stronger – sounding lusher and more varied than with just the four pieces used here (under the excellent Yutong Zhang - conducting enthusiastically one company acapella moment from the rear platform).
The lyric will be more impactful too as verses are shortened and tightened. Some numbers do run a little long around the dance-breaks but that is what workshopping is for. “Buttons” – those emotional ‘high’ moments which end a musical theatre song – will be sewn on, and each song will then land fully as it should.
Most of all, the feeling of Gemütlichkeit / hygge / cosiness, call it what you will, should emerge. The structure is aiming to be a corridor down which Oliver and Nancy (you must have worked out which show they are mega fans of by now) walk together, opening side rooms on their lives past and present to explain where they are heading.
That is not clear yet, but will become obvious as work continues, and the show takes its final shape. The monkey was lucky (Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss dreadfully unlucky) enough to be seated directly in front of the show’s creators. Marlow told monkey that has taken this warm, wonderful, genius pairing (truly adorable people) around 5 years to reach this point, working in chunks around other projects.
With luck, ”Why Am I So Single?” should end up a memorable celebration of friendship and ‘pop-culture’ mixed with a message of hope and tolerance, and the monkey wishes the project all the very best as it comes to fruition.