Ushered to my seat unknowingly by a cast member, I walked into the Charing Cross Theatre excited to finally see the new show Ushers: The Front of House Musical.
My first introduction to this show was via the @WestEndProducer’s Search For A Twitter Composer competition. They won my vote then and they definitely win it now. With songs mirroring the actual format of a show (‘Welcome’, ‘Interval Preparations’, ‘Welcome Back’, ‘Goodbye’) and a storyline that follows the personal and professional lives of the Front of House staff, this show undoubtedly has a niche and nails it from start to finish. James Oban for Kouban Productions brings us the kind of musical we want to see. It’s the underdog musical. Contemporary, comical and heartfelt, Ushers is not only relevant but also relatable.
The show opens with the ushers singing ‘Welcome’ in the aisles and manoeuvring around the theatre in quirky choreography. The show acknowledges the audience and makes no apology for breaking the 4th wall. They even venture as far as humiliating the late comers. I was instantly a fan!
The show follows the workplace drama of 5 Front of House staff and their creepy, greedy boss, Robin. When new starter Lucy joins the team, the audience gets a glimpse of what the job of an usher really involves. Considering most performers at one point or another have worked Front of House, the entire concept resonates with so many patrons. We see the romance, the arguments, the awkwardness, the power struggle, and the hilarious stagey jokes.
Composer Yiannis Kousakos, along with producer/lyricist, James Oban and playwright/lyricist James Rottger, have found a gem in creating this show. It serves a huge audience with a story that’s for anyone of us who’ve worked a crappy job and dreamt of something more.
The Front of House setting is ideal because it’s not your typical job environment. The world it explores edges on soap opera. The dilemma facing Gary and Ben, an adorable couple, over whether or not to stay together given that Gary has an opportunity to perform in Austria for a year, is well written and also quite a familiar conversation or couples who are actors. I applaud the writers for presenting this couple as just that, a couple. These boys are like any other couple who love each other and are facing a dilemma together . Be it a gay or straight, the issue they face is no different. Daniel Buckley really brings heart to the forefront with his beautifully subtle and honest approach to the song ‘Half-Finished Story’.
Also grabbing our eye is the vivacious, FOH veteran, Twitter hashtag-extraordinare, Rosie (played by Ceris Hine). This character is golden! Hine sings like a bubbly Kristen Chenoweth-like soprano and gives her character a hint of curvaceous comedy reminiscent of Jennifer Coolidge. She has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, particularly in her off the wall, dynamite song “Leading Men”.
The awkward work crush between Lucy (Carly Thoms) and Stephen (Ross McNeill) is fun to watch and is just the right amount of innocence to give us the butterflies. It’s a great contrast to the emotional heaviness that weighs in on Gary and Ben’s relationship.
Perhaps the flaw in the show for me is in its resolution. It seems to wrap up far too perfectly. I feel it could really be something special if the ending reflected a more realistic scenario. The true identity of Lucy is a great reveal as the teamwork involved in overthrowing the wicked ways of the Theatre Manager; however, the show goes a step too far in essentially making everyone’s dream come true in less than 2 minutes.
The balance between highly stylised and honest, genuine characters is what makes the show soar. Apart from a few lighting cues (which genuinely botched some lovely moments), this is an enjoyable and lighthearted musical to watch from Welcome to Goodbye.
Reviewed by Ruthie Luff
Ushers: The Front of House Musical plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until 7 June 2014. Click here to book tickets.