Review: Lucky Stiff, Drayton Arms

“Worlds of things to try, how can you refuse them?”

Everyone’s gotta start somewhere and for writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, their musical theatre career began with their 1988 show Lucky Stiff. They’d go on to win Tony Awards for shows like Ragtime but this work definitely has the feel of a writing team still finding their feet. An adaptation of the Michael Butterworth novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, this musical farce makes bold claims from its opening number ‘Something Funny’s Going On’ but sometimes you’re left wondering if its funny-haha or just funny-odd.

It’s an unevenness that is underlined by MKEC Productions’ approach here at the Drayton Arms, director Marc Kelly reaching ambitiously to give us all the conventions of a farce, as it plays out here in a Monte Carlo hotel but on limited means, failing to conjure much luxury or laughter. Without the knowing wink to acknowledge the naffness, in a manner like Acorn Antiques say, the attention can’t help but be drawn to unwieldy yet wobbly door frames and barely disguised camp beds, which is a shame as this enthusiastic company deserve better. Continue reading “Review: Lucky Stiff, Drayton Arms”

Review: Damn Yankees, Brockley Jack

“Take off your coat, don’t you know you can’t win”

Though the North Americans may call their baseball championship the World Series, it is safe to say that the charms of this particular sport don’t necessarily span the globe and have never really travelled across the ocean (how could it, in the face of rounders). Which might go some way to explaining why Damn Yankees has never managed quite the same level of success as other 1950s musical comedies in theatres here, not least The Pajama Game, also with songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, which is about to transfer into the West End after opening in Chichester last year. 

That said, the story is less about flyball pitchers, squeeze plays and home runs and more about obsessions (sporting or otherwise) and the lengths to which people will go to chase dreams. Indeed, it stands as a modern reinterpretation of the Faust legend as couch potato Joe accepts a devilish deal from the mysterious Mr Applegate to become the young and successful baseball player he once dreamed of being, raising eyebrows across town, from his hard-done-by wife Meg to intrepid reporter Gloria. Continue reading “Review: Damn Yankees, Brockley Jack”

Review: Love Story, Jack Studio Theatre

“You only reap the harvest that you sow”

Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark’s lush musical take on Erich Segal’s perennial tearjerker Love Story gained critical if not commercial success with its West End run back in 2010, but its beautiful music can now be heard live again with its off-West-End premiere at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley. It was always a chamber piece and so it suits the intimacy of this fringe venue well and in Joseph C Walsh’s clever and unmiked production, it provides a welcome reminder of one of the best new British musical scores of recent times.

But though it is musically excellent, the book does contain issues and they are sadly all-too-apparent in this interpretation. The story telescopes the entirety of Jenny Cavilleri and Oliver Barrett IV’s five year relationship, from its spiky college beginnings through marriage beds and [spoiler alert, although not really…] hospital beds to its tragic end, into 90 minutes of fast-flowing narrative and song. But it is so fast, so relentless, that it is difficult to really invest emotionally into the characters as they are written here – the show thus relies on pre-knowledge of the story and from the transcendent strength of the performances (Emma Williams and Michael Xavier both excelling in this respect in the West End). Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Jack Studio Theatre”