Review: WeGotTickets Musical Comedy Awards 2014

musical comedyThe WeGotTickets Musical Comedy Awards 2014 promised an evening with ‘the UK’s finest up-and-coming musical comedians’ at the Bloomsbury Theatre, chosen from an unspecified number of competition entrants who battled through the judges’ heats at Camden’s Our Black Heart pub. Considering the mostly lukewarm talent on offer in the Grand Final, the heats must have been a comedic ice age.


Compèred with hesitant awkwardness by Horse and Louis, whose recurring party piece was throwing an unending supply of branded foam WeGotTickets microphones into the audience, the night felt like corporate-sponsored amateurism from the start. A giant game of musical statues with the punters mercifully handed over some of the responsibility to be entertaining for a few minutes. After the dance-off we were left in the hands of finalist act Cribb and Morgan.

Doppelgangers of Horse and Louis – with one nerdy brown-haired skinny guy and a bigger, bespectacled ginger accomplice – Cribb and Morgan had a mountain to climb to distinguish themselves, and didn’t reach base camp. Their Mambo No. 5 parody ploughed the well-worn furrow of rewriting a hit song with self-referential lyrics. This genre was finished for me back in Mambo’s heteronormative heyday with ‘Which Backstreet Boy is Gay?’, but by now the form has decidedly outgrown itself with the ingenious 20-second reworkings of Amateur Transplants and innumerable auto-tuned YouTube virals. The duo slogged through two original compositions, first imploring the world not to tweet Breaking Bad spoilers, then extolling the romantic side of using Tinder. Forgettable choruses and poorly executed harmonies hindered these attempts to bring out the grandiose in everyday life. The potential visual interest of a PowerPoint projection was squandered on Google-imaged verbatim representations of the witless lyrics. Getting second prize on the night made as little sense as Walt being physically able to free Jesse from all those Nazis, in the terminal stages of his chemo and everything.

de_david_elmsNext on was David Elms, the standout act of the night who offered the only coherent take on the musical comedy genre. He revelled in understated one-liners and seemed to delight in controlling the pace, producing observations such as ‘there’s only one person in the balcony’ with lugubrious abandon. In the spirit of alt-comedy, his musical performance was refreshingly lo-fi. Elms looked like he knew three chords at most and had a voice range of about half an octave, but the quality of his writing shone throughout. Drawling through well-crafted songs based on the phonetic alphabet, childhood trauma, and how love is like a movie – if the movie in question features David Elms ‘coming out of [his] dick’ repeatedly – he was surreal, self-parodying and assured. The obvious first-prize winner on the night, and an interesting performer taking the next step up.

If Elms was our beautiful sunset, a long dark night fell swiftly with the third finalists, Bob and Jim. They began with a decent premise of cockney music-hall parody, brandishing flat caps, ukulele and a whole lot of impenetrable innuendo (LOL?). Jokes – more statements – about feminism and homelessness all went a bit Pete Tong. Then they abandoned the how’s-your-father japes in favour of Beyoncé and heavy metal parodies. Perhaps this was out of a lack of musical ideas. Or an acknowledgement that an overdrive effects pedal is more interesting than two men who can’t act, sing or tell jokes. By the time the gruesome twosome closed with computerised Formby pastiche ‘When I’m Using Windows’, I’d ‘ave gladly knocked their loaves togevver.

Laurence Owen strode onto stage as the fourth finalist, lute in hand, and launched into an awkwardly structured song about unusual ‘sexy’ Halloween costumes. This first attempt to portray a dark persona was undermined by the nervousness of his performance, facial tics at any hint of filth, and his beige suit and thick glasses. He was more Buddy Holly than Nick Cave, and more Milhouse van Houten than either of the above. Next Owen listed in song the women who have made him the sex fiend he is today, from mature encounters as a randy three-year-old to spontaneous ejaculation at a teenage barbecue. The Seven Ages of Man it ain’t unless, like Owen, you believe all the world’s a raging hard-on. His final shot at depravity came (LOL?! Again?!) as another list song, where four ‘whores’ compared the size of their gargantuan vaginas. The only Satanic quality of this song was the length. Long descriptions of huge fannies turned quickly to humdrum as Owen repeatedly mistook verbosity for eloquence. He came third on the night – probably the first time that description could be applied to this over-excitable Goth wannabe.

The closing finalists of the night were three-man boyband parody Rogue 5. Well-placed both in the running order and in front of a ‘90s-born audience, the group produced a raucous end to the Grand Final. Absurdities of their genre were brought out by the trio’s relationships. The stereotypes of prima donna, token black guy and good-looking idiot were covered with preening fluency. They crooned through low-denominator songs about underage girls in clubs, being disappointed by someone’s face after checking out their body (‘you’re what doggystyle was invented for’), and invited a handsome audience member to participate in their ‘good old-fashioned bromance’. They needed better ensemble singing and choreography to carry off the parody. But their sense of a crowd-pleasing number closed the first half with all the theatrical silliness of a themed hen night. Perhaps they know which Backstreet Boy is gay.

The second half provided guest entertainment while the judges made up their minds. Horse and Louis took the bizarre decision to repeat jokes from the first half nearly word-for-word. Appropriately they handed this Beckettian atmosphere over to an Irishman, Steve Bennett (not that one). Even more appropriately Bennett spent five minutes singing ‘we’re all going to die’ at the audience in an attempt to crush children’s dreams. The bearded harbinger of doom was succeeded by singer-songwriter parodist Pancreas (the first of two appearances from Pippa Evans of ‘Showstoppers’ and ‘Fast and Loose’), whose keen sense of rockstars’ verbal nonsense was underexploited in her song about Banter and its forms. Jay Foreman was easily the slickest performer of the night, repulsing the audience with tales of his grandma’s weird food and a sofa made from human skin before winning them right back by singing the name of every London underground stop in double-quick time.

LM_Polar-5_400x400Evans’ second appearance as headliner Loretta Maine was self-consciously chaotic as she forgot her script and hashed together a song about George, an older audience member who loved wearing coats. For all the drunken affectations, her pre-written material raked over gender and national stereotypes plucked right out of the mainstream, and her improvisation was not as impressive as her epic rockstar persona suggested. Like many of the acts tonight, Loretta could perhaps have done with a few more drinks to break out of her conventional performing habits.

The Musical Comedy Grand Final was not as musical, comedic or grand as its name might suggest, but luckily it was not final either – the career of winner David Elms is only just beginning, and promises fascinating results.

Reporter: Jeff Bloom