Edinburgh Fringe 2013
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that [title of show] is one of the greatest musicals of recent decades. For those uninitiated into the cult [tos] is "a musical about two guys writing a musical" – the true story of four friends who set themselves the challenge of writing a musical in three weeks to enter into the New York Music Theatre Festival and decided to just create a musical about the process of writing that musical. Patch of Blue theatre company are presenting the UK professional premiere at the Fringe.
[title of show] at once a ballsy takedown of the increasingly commercial interests of Broadway and a love song to the great musicals (and the flops) that have found generations of fans. It is both a skewering of traditional forms of theatre writing and a sentimental homage to the classics. It’s an absolute treat for anyone who loves Broadway musicals – the ultimate in-joke. It’s also the ultimate ironic pastiche/post-modern undermining of the genre.
Now, as it’s a true story, there is an inherent flaw in producing [title of show] in any setting other than with the original writer/performers, in New York. There’s even a line in which, as the characters ask if it would be weird if they sold rights and had other performers play them in other productions. The answer to that is, yes, it is pretty weird. However, aside from listening to the soundtrack and a few YouTube videos, this is now the only way to see the whole show. So, unless you’re a true pedant, you just have to put up with the fact that Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan (and Larry, the keyboard player) are not the originals.
Patch of Blue theatre company’s production is strong – Robbie Towns and Ricky Johnston in particular stood out in the main roles of Jeff and Hunter, with understated and funny dialogue. Carley Stenson and Jamie Lee Pike as Susan and Heidi weren’t quite as convincing (their American accents need attention, and they haven’t quite mastered the acting-like-they’re-not-acting thing). At times the acting was so "natural" that projection became an issue and it was difficult to hear. However, when the entire company was singing on stage, these were minor concerns.
In terms of production values, I was disappointed to find that one of great lines of the show – "Who says four chairs and a keyboard can’t make a Broadway musical?" was ignored: there are four chairs, and there is a keyboard, but there’s also whiteboard and a corkboard full of Playbills and a box marked "props", and a few bits of extraneous costume, all of which detract more than they add. The chairs themselves are a deliberate assortment that seem chosen to add character, or something like that. The point of this line is that it emphasises the fact you can create something great with just bodies on a stage and only the barest of essentials; it deliberately eschews musical theatre’s love of going the whole nine yards. "We’re enough with only that keyboard, we’re okay with only four chairs", the line continues; "we’ll rock hard with only four chairs." It’s an example of a production having to trust the material and resist embellishing it.
It’s highly worth seeing the show, particularly as it’s so rare to get the opportunity see this musical on stage. Whether you’re a musical theatre dork or not, it’s hard not to love the optimism, the daring and the fun of this show.