THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
[Title of Show] is a tart and sassy Tony nominated musical which is more New York than pastrami on rye. A sort of a 21st century Merrily We Roll Along, but on a much smaller palette, it started off Broadway in 2006 and hit Broadway in 2008. It’s had various incarnations since but never, until now, in the West End.
Lambert Jackson Productions, who specialise in musical theatre, have been wonderfully industrious in these tough times and have staged this new virtual production, directed by Josh Seymour and filmed it in the Chorus Rehearsal Room at the London Coliseum. The stripped back staging for the cameras works a treat, of course, with this material as it’s essentially about 4 people in a room creating.
The composers take on a ridiculous task of writing a musical in 3 weeks, so they can enter it for a New York Musical Theatre Festival competition. Marc Elliot and Tyrone Huntley play Jeff and Hunter the eager wannabee composers, while Lucie Jones and Jenna Russell are two actor friends, Martha, and Susan, who help them workshop it. The cast is completed by an MD on the piano, played by Ben Johnson, who is the MD on the piano. As the deadline looms tensions mount and jealousies flare.
What makes this version fly is the top-notch cast of West End performers who, if it were staged physically would certainly make a splash with it. Elliot was just in City of Angels, Jones was in Waitress, while Huntley burst on to the scene a fully-fledged star in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park, winning best newcomer in the Evening Standard Awards along the way. Russell of course has a clutch of Olivier and Tony nominations and is a reason to see a show all in herself.
At first seeming like no hopers, the personable duo is wonderfully gauche as they set about their task, even starting out with “what should we write about”. They soon hit a roadblock of course and eventually decide they need to “write what you know”. Easier said than done, so they set off to write a musical about writing a musical. You could call it Meta - The Musical.
While this might seem far too incestuous for a general audience, the songs have zip and the book is sharp enough to compensate, packed as it is with dry pop culture references. It’s also totally steeped in the world of these characters, one which is necessarily self-obsessed. It’s provides an insight into how these shows get built, how songs are constructed and the crazy ecosystem from which they emerge. Unless you really know your Broadway, you might need your phone with you, opened on the Wikipedia page. The tart New York knowingness of it all however gives it an authenticity but also a lightness of touch.
In these troubled times there’s a need for such apparent triviality (not trivial to these people of course) and it’s also a bittersweet reminder of the talent we enjoy in the West End, performers whose careers are currently in a dangerous holding position until we return, we hope, to something like normal.