27 : The Rise Of A Falling Star
Music, Book and Lyrics by Sam Cassidy
Music by Matt Willis
Out, Out Damn Spotlight
27, a new musical by a 20 something writing team of Sam Cassidy and Matt Willis, follows a now traditional route. Jason and the Argonauts is a rock combo making the rounds of the music world looking for a contract, fame and fortune. Made up of Gerry (Ryan Gibb), aka Jason, Max (Jack Donnelly) and lead singer and lyricist Jimmy (Greg Oliver) who calls himself Orpheus.
The title gives away the strength and flaws of this piece. 27, fine. The 27 (year old) club underlined by a foyer gallery of rock stars who died thrown into the excesses of the rock 'n roll world. But then someone had to add "The Rise Of A Falling Star". Ho, hum.
Nevertheless, it's directed with a pleasing fluency by founder of Hot Gossip and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips and the writer Sam Cassidy and unsurprisingly has some great silhouettes and dance routines (choreography Ryan-Lee Seager and Lucy Martin). This is still a raw and rough musical with a sometimes clumsy script that needs scything and perhaps the addition of a few more songs. But it's not a series of sketches - there is a strong, archetypal story at its core with energy and touches of humour, even if it needs more work.
It's a well-worn tale - the meteoric rise of a lead singer (Oliver, who viscerally manages to layer an amalgam of recogniable lead singers on top of Jimmy's personality) who after signing with a label, has his talent smothered by drugs on demand and neglects his first love (a superb Cassie Compton making the most of an underwritten role) until ... Well, we've got the real life stories of Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix and Amy Winehouse exhibited in the foyer and in the media and coroner's courts archives to give a clue to the trajectory. But there's the potential to spike the story with a few real details juxtaposed with the clichés.
Yep, because in this case, an age-old simplified story does almost work. The sound levels of the first act left something to be desired, a lot of the linking dialogue is heavy handed. It's almost certainly been over-workshopped with bits of story grabbed from the current theatrical roundabout. It also needs cleverer structuring, especially to make the ending with the Blood Brothers-style song Hardest Happy Ending seem less of a bathetic postscript.
But there's almost a wisdom in this musical which goes beyond the years of the creators. Yes, the dialogue is clunky. But it also brings out the callowness and boyishness of Jimmy aka Orpheus and if it were more honed, it would massively raise the soundness of the story.
The songs (once the mic levels settled down) for the most part push the story forward. There are also a few lines in the links which beg to be songs and there's the possibility of a quicker moving sung-through script. While the TV interview at the end is cheesey, there's real potential for a more collage effect of video, talking heads, the process of real lives metamorphisized into cliché.
The set, metal girders on several levels, works well. The lighting sometimes seems outsize for the venue but, all designed by Nick Eve, gives a taste of what could be achieved on a bigger stage, along with the different colour filters.
OK at the moment it feels as if nearly every musical theatre team on, at least, the London circuit is doing The Faustian Rag. But there's a neat subversion here with the impressario Hades (an equally strong Ryan Molloy) which makes it far more psychologically convincing, even if the Orpheus tale feels more integrated. The use of a Macbeth thread through the piece does add depth but could do with more consideration - the three female fates cum witches (powerful if over-miked performances by Maisey Bawden, Eloise Davies and Jodie Jacobs) would maybe work better if they doubled eventually as characters outside the supernatural world.
And the Shakespeare story could bolster up the underwritten roles of the fellow group members, Gerry and Max, and especially girlfriend Amy whose sudden life U-turn feels totally implausible
But the single-mindedness of a star making engine where the group and its lead becomes a product which Ms M (a viperously sexy Lucy Martin) delivers to the business is a shorthand for the industry's shenanigans which has the intended effect.
So this is very much a musical-in-progress but it certainly has potential for a large scale production with spectacular special effects as long as the believability of the story which beats at its heart is retained. At the moment it's an amber (star) light from your own independent label theatre reviewer and her moderately heavy metal automotive groupie.