Let me say, at the outset, that this is the most entertaining production I have seen in many years. It is original, in a kind of deliberately unoriginal way. It is incredibly funny, fantastically well produced, acted and sung. I loved it from the beginning to the end.
Superficially it is about an unsuccessful American music writer, Rudy Brown, obsessively trying to write a hit musical, while his marriage falls apart and he is forced into writing advertising jingles to survive . He has totally fixated on The Hunchback of Notre Dame throughout his career to the exclusion of everything else including his wife and baby. There is an unexpected happy ending for Rudy but with a sting in the tail.
In his younger days Rudy had written an original Hunchback score which he had failed to get accepted. It was appreciated by publishers, but considered too avant guard. So, throughout the following years he searched for success, obsessively rewriting the show, updating it to follow the latest trends in musical theatre.
Above the stage there is a digital display which shows the year in which the original song was performed and by extension the current year. For example the first song, Festival Of Fools, was taken from the style of My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe, which was originally performed in 1956 on Broadway. The display shows 1956 until the second song, a pastiche of West Side Story begins and the display changes to 1961, and so on.
All the tunes are new and so are the lyrics. It is the style which is copied and small hilarious hints are given for clarity. Listen carefully and you will hear shades of West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar Annie and so many more, just as unlikely, pairings.
Rudy, his wife and a piano occupy a tiny space on the left of the stage which represents the room in his apartment where he does his writing. The bulk of the stage is taken up by the glorious enactment of his writing. There begins the true show.
This is not, in any way, a small musical. There are twenty complete, original songs performed by a cast of fourteen super talented singer actors. There is insufficient space on the page to do justice to all of them so, with regret, I will pick out just a few performers and a few highlights.
I particularly liked the Hunchback pastiche of 1966 Cabaret, from Kander and Ebb, in which the action is shifted from an early nineteen hundreds Berlin, Kit Kat club to a Gothic Parisian torture chamber. Poor Quasimodo (actually a man sized bundle of rags in this case) is tied to a large wheel which is slowly being turned by one of Dom Claude’s acolytes. The original song of Money Makes The World Go Around is replaced by a wonderfully funny song called The Trial, in which the chorus is Ronny Makes The Wheel Go Around sung by the prison MC (the hilarious Andrew Truluck). I literally cried with laughter along with the rest of the audience. Also who could not love a lyric such as “look, he lifts his arm. In Notre Dame”?
There are not many visual references to the original productions, Esmeralda’s mother’s skin is painted green for the song Mother Meets Daughter, in the style of Wicked. Two men in dark suites appear on stage in the style of The Book Of Mormon but don’t actually do much, and that is about all. However, the show is a brilliant visual and auditory joy.
There are no weaknesses in the cast they all have very fine voices and while inevitably Jennifer Tilley as the wild, sexy, beautiful Esmeralda, James Fillery as the poor, hard done by Quasimodo and Kevin Rodgers as, the quite scary, operatic, Dom Claude tend to dominate the production, this is due to Victor Hugo rather than Rudy Brown. This is very much an ensemble production with everyone adding immensely to the whole, I wish that I could offer them all an individual pat on the back.
It would be remiss of me not to mention at least some of the amazing creative team who brought the whole thing together, Director Owain Rose who also co-wrote the book with Musical Director Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe. Stephen also wrote the brilliant music and lyrics. Special mention to Emma Pleass’s choreography, the Designer Frank Turnbull and the inspired wardrobe team. And, last but by no means least, Victor Hugo who along with fine wines and Brigitte Bardot is France’s greatest ever export.
Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Kim Sheard Photography
MUSICAL OF THE YEAR plays at The Lost Theatre until the 29th October 2016