Thursday, 14 July 2016

Review I'm Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road

I'm Getting My Act Togehter And Taking It On The Road
Music by Nancy Ford
Book and Lyrics by Gretchen Cryer

When Joe Met Heather

This is an interesting one. A confessional musical created in 1978 by two women from small town America, both divorced from ex-Christian ministers who also turned to showbiz, which overcome tepid reviews to become an Off Broadway smash. Have we got your attention? Oh yes, and the two women had also gone on the road as singer/songwriters.

Often billed as the "first feminist musical", the creators prefer to class it as an exploration of  relationships between women and men. And it's wisely left as a period piece in Matthew Gould's comradely production in the intimate surroundings of Piccadilly's Jermyn Street Theatre.

Heather Jones (Landi Oshinowo), sometime bubble gum pop star and soap actress, having reached the big 4-0, determines to break away from her typecasting and  consumer-driven notions of love and family. Literally leaving her old act and getting a new act together, she's also got together a band and backing singers for a rawer and, yes, more political set of songs and is preparing to strike out on a tour without the corporate hype.

But before she goes, she still seeks the approval, or maybe rather a first audience, in the shape of manager Joe (Nicolas Colicos) who, with domestic troubles of his own,  veers between dominance, likeability and vulnerability, fearing she'll destroy what they have built up together.

This, as we've indicated, is very much of its time. But it remains a cleverly constructed ongoing discussion of irresolvable matters punctuated by an affecting series of songs building up to a more complex picture than a narrative description  might indicate.

The show is as much about women in the music industry and the contractual slavery, at the time, for both sexes in the recording industry and TV. When the feminine icon of America was as much the Barbie Doll and carefully choreographed girl groups as the Statue of Liberty.

With a mix of songs and styles and slipped-in references from West Side Story's I Feel So Pretty to soul amd rock,  it's also a sly history of  women in music. with some of the songs almost ending in question marks.

There's a literary side to it too with a reference to Virginia Woolf and social history with the "New Woman". Then there's the global subtext to this musical  when it was recently not just about women in the home and men going to work, but men and some women going outside America to war.  For in the words of  Miss America "Beauty was your currency/Talent was your style/Lovers falling at your feet/Power in your smile"

There''s strength too in a polished cast with understated, but intelligently evocative, choreography. Dark-haired Alice (Rosanna Hyland) and blonde Cheryl (Kristen Gaetz) provide the backing singers and transform themselves, along with Heather, into the traditional girl group. 

While Heather also finds herself wooed plaintively by the young guitarist Jake (David Gibbons) who looks like Bruce Springsteen but sings more like David Cassidy. The casting of a black woman in the role of Heather also adds a layer of musical history harking back to the black girl groups manufactured by white male managers and emerging solo black vocalists.

Looking up the history, it was the cathartic discussion element, when producer Joe Papp cannily noted the cold war audience lingered to talk and argue with each other after the show, which also proved part of its success. Papp pioneered post-performance Q and As and, along with a strong score, turned the show into a hit.

Ford and Cryer have now put together a sequel, "Still Getting My Act Together" and melded ir into a two act play with songs. If it's as strong as the original, it struck us it may well have legs as a movie as well as a stage play. Anyway this felt like a matinee well-spent and it's an amber/green from the TLT band.

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