Monday, 26 September 2016

Review Out There

Out There
Music, Book & Lyrics by
Elliot Davis & James Bourne

Logan's Run

Back in the day, TLT is of the television generation who watched the black and white images of an astronaut taking man's (yes  it had to be a man ...) first step on the moon. And then gazed at the moon in the sky and thought, "There's someone up there!".

So TLT and her own little space shuttle had high hopes of Out There, a musical about this great achievement filtered through three generations of one family.

It's 1969 and NASA has named Newman Carter  (Shane Gibb), to the pride and delight of his wife Hope (Thea Jo Wolfe) and young son David, as lead astronaut for the first expedition to the moon. He's the man in the news until earthly tragedy strikes the Newman family and Newman disappears, leaving his son to be brought up by his aunt Celia (Jodee Conrad).

Roll on 40 years and we discover David (Neil Moors) is now the hotshot American head of Carter Galactica, a company he runs with the help of lawyer Linda Wares (Melissa Bayern). The plan is to launch a commercial spaceline and allow tourist travel to the moon

However Linda's duties also include fielding off police and mitigating punishments meted out to David's talented but tearaway son Logan (Luke Street) who has chosen the life of a petty criminal over studying engineering at college.

When Linda can no longer keep Logan out of jail, he takes off, one step ahead of the law, with the help of his Aunt Celia who gives him a letter to deliver to an old friend, Ned Thomas (Dave Willets), in the stagnating Texan town of Hope.

The corrupt local sherriff Pack (Melissa Veszi), aided by henchmen Billy (Adam Pettit) and Stan (Rhys Owen) is out to sell all the land in Hope off to a chemical waste firm, but is blocked by Ned who refuses join in the party.

When Logan arrives in town with the letter he puzzingly finds himself rejected by elderly Ned. However after a rocky start he develops a relationship with him, finds love interest  in the local (female) mechanic Jaimie (Imelda Warren-Green) before discovering Ned's true identity and a further secret on Ned's farm.

The best-known name in the show is Dave Willets as Ned whose experience and control are self-evident.  The score, by James Bourne (of McBusted fame) is tuneful enough with a tinge of country and western  and keyboard and guitar accompaniement (musical director Joe Louis Robinson).

Director Michael Burgen takes us through the twentieth century story with gusto on a stage surrounded by the audience on two sides. The narrative flows, almost entirely sung through.

But it's when the story jumps ahead in time that it starts to fall apart and the shoestring production loses its bearings. A staging choice to use a corner entrance rather than the main stage area also doesn't do the production any favours.

In the end, no score, however good, can survive an uncertain book, even though there were indications of more characters and a more ample story, of which more later. As it stands, the makeshift style of the cardboard scenery (Nik Corrall's set), which could have been charmingly whimsical, becomes indicative of a makeshift plot clumsily combining fantastical elements with a supposedly more gritty, political tale mixed with slapstick.  

TLT can see this working if it were made clear everything we see and hear is percolated through the world evoked by TV series and films from the mid twentieth century onwards. In fact, the first scenes with young David Carter watching TV, playing with a space rocket and a cartoon rocket on the  back wall may suggest this.

The posible framework of a clever childlike, but not childish, patchwork of  popular TV and movie tropes never comes into fruition. Instead, we're presented with a clunky series of face-value clichés and indications that parts of the plot may have been cut.

The mid twentieth century Disney optimism about space travel and its benefits, the 1970s urban movie grit of Logan and his car thieving pals,  the successful father and his rebel-without-a-cause son, the comic "Dukes of Hazard" law enforcement, the town council's fight to save their town from a destructive corporation (the stuff of many a movie) all could have provided a witty structure with room for new twists.

The mention of environmental protestors and the putting into the mouth of the female sheriff of what are obviously the lines of a journalist made TLT and her automotive redneck wonder what had been cut.

A quick web search revealed a 2011 two-day production by the Youth Music Theatre with a fuller score. The journalist in this version appears on first blush to have been a villain in cahoots with the elected law enforcer. This may explain a verse about "smelling a story" sung, rather glaringly inappropriately, by the police chief. It seems to us quite appropriate to take away one villain in that case but leaving those lines in the mouth of the another just didn't fit.

The subjects of journalism and environmental damage are also strong subjects which  can last through the years. They seem to be present a tad more forcefully in the 2011 version and, with research and thought, could still have added depth without unbalancing the space story.

For it could have resonated now in 2016 with real-life current news about an environmental journalist, oil pipelines and and native American land which has caused international  disquiet concerning policing, local politicians, corporations and the impact on journalism.  Melissa Veszi playing the sheriff in Out There does have a native American look/Mexican look and the repetition of needing access to fuel in the musical also chimes with this news story.

A townsfolk comment about putting on a show, which seemed strangely out of place at the performance we saw, also fell into place when we realised that a song Step by Step had been cut. This bound the themes of space, the construction of a space rocket, the saving of a township, two young people falling in love, the putting together of a news story, the creation of a musical and the gradual coming together of grandfather, son and grandson.  

There were other incongruities. Logan, who is white, bridles at being called "boy"  by his father and grandfather, something out of sync with their other speech patterns,  in a strange Coriolanus-type theme which goes nowhere.

It is possible that the whole is a prescription-drug-fuelled fantasy of a dying old man with the town and corporate plot still outside the fantasy. But this kind of ambiguity is never allowed air to breathe and the different stories never fully integrated.

The cast of eleven all acquit themselves in the singing stakes, while there are a few very wobbly American accents. This, looking back at the 2011 production, seems be a musical pulled and pushed out of existence since then instead of developed. An amber light for the performances and such a shame that, with so much being lost in the process, something valuable may have been submerged out there.

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