“Strike up the band, make it piping hot”
MKEC Productions have been carving out a niche for themselves in conjuring fringe productions of lesser-known musicals and in Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds’ When Midnight Strikes, directed by Marc Kelly, they’re onto a winner. Set in a Manhattan apartment on New Year’s Eve 1999, a plush dinner party looks set to career off the rails as the hostess has discovered that her husband is cheating and the guests are just about to arrive.
Admittedly, Hammonds’ book is a tad sketchily drawn – 11 partygoers and the waitress/actress serving them all jostling for space, and so naturally not all get a fair whack at the wheel of the main narrative. And set so specifically at the millennium, its humour and reference points feel weirdly dated, with an almost US sitcom feel. What Kelly’s production does do though is highlight that it is still a set of potentially vibrant character studies and so the company respond by each seizing their moment.
Georgina Nicholas’ Twyla nails the big ballad moment of ‘You Know How To Love Me’ as the show reaches its climax, Ellie Nunn’s waitress Josephina invests ‘I Never Learned To Type’ with real pathos in all its frustrated hopes and dreams, and dowdy neighbour Murial blossoms wonderfully as Victoria Waddington taps comically into her inner passions, aided by Andrew Truluck’s tightly-wound Edward.
And at the heart of the story, Elizabeth Chadwick’s Jennifer makes the most of the meatiness of this central role. The bittersweet emotion of ‘Little Miss Perfect’, the Sondheim-esque bite to Act 1 closer ‘End of Days’, the explosive chemistry with feckless fella Christopher in ‘It’s Not A Party…’. For his own part, Simon Burr captures all the conflicted emotion of a man at the crossroads extremely well, he’s a performer to watch out for.
Real investment has gone into the set design and Victoria Francis marshals her resources in a brilliant transformation of the space as it opens out onto a balcony with a classic NY skyline (projections by J Mark Pim). And Oli Rew’s musical direction from the piano with cellist Dominic Veall serves Miller’s beautiful score well, with all its lush harmonies and varied styles. A welcome airing then for a musical that could (and should) be better known, and a deservedly strong production that serves it well.