[title of show] Review

If you’re ever wondered how the musical ‘[title of show]’ began, you’d best see its latest production at Above the Stag Theatre. Or if you like musical theatre you’d enjoy this autobiographical musical comedy about writing a musical comedy.

‘[title of show]’ is based of the book by Hunter Bell, with Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen. It is essentially its own autobiography as it chronicles its own creation. Friends Jeff and Hunter want to write a musical, but with only three weeks til applications close to enter the Musical Theatre Festival they are experiencing writers block. They call up their friends Susan and Heidi, and together they start collaborating. Things are going well, until egos and the demands of ‘real’ life start to call.

‘[title of show]’ was actually chosen for production by the Musical Theatre Festival, premiering in New York in September 2004. There were two off-Broadway productions in 2006 before moving to Broadway in 2008. It has won an OBIE award, been nominated for a Drama League Award and nominated for a Tony for Best Book of a Musical for its Broadway Production.

It’s quirky and unusual in that the actors are playing real people who created these roles. At times it was difficult to distinguish if they were acting as their ‘real’ character or the character within the play-within-a-play. Satirising musical theatre, it makes light of this concept with jokes about moving around stage, freezing, and musical intros, but it didn’t always come across effectively. Director Robert McWhir has ensured the actors use all of the stage and convey emotions through movement.

The dialogue is witty and fast-paced, but at times the show lost momentum. Running for 105 minutes with intermission, I feel it could have been done in a single sitting to keep the pace and focus. There are many pop-cultural and musical theatre references that have been updated in the last fifteen years though some seemed to fall flat. The older style mobile phones and cord telephone also date the show. We went on a Sunday at 5:30pm and there were only thirteen people which probably contributed to some things not being as comic as envisioned.

Using just four chairs, a keyboard and a couple of handbags, it is a basic set. The audience sits along two sides of the stage, a move that helps you feel part of this intimate creative process. Above the Stag theatre, the UK’s only full-time professional LGBT theatre, is located under the train station at Vauxhall and the rumbling of trains was a distraction at times.

Jordan Fox as Jeff and Michael Vinsen as Hunter play the vulnerabilities and anxieties well. However, at times the interaction felt a little off-key, and we felt they were stronger in the group ensemble then in scenes by themselves. They were supported by Kirby Hughes as bubbly Heidi and Natalie Williams as snarky Susan, though both commanded more stage presence than their male colleagues. Special mention to ‘Larry’ the keyboard player who is on stage the whole time, and who has a small number of comic lines.

Indeed, the whole source of music is only from the piano. ‘Die, Vampire, Die’ sung by Williams and ‘A Way Back to Then’ by Hughes were two of the more powerful pieces. ‘Change it, Don’t Change It’ details the angst felt about achieving your dream but at a price. The uplifting ‘Nine People’s Favourite Thing’ reminds us of the joys of creating.

Overall we’d give [title of show]’ 6 out of 10 stars. A nice tale of friendship and dreaming big, it runs from 13 February to 10 March 2019 at All Above the Stag. Performance times are Tuesday to Saturday at 7.15pm, and Sunday 2pm and 5.30pm. Standard tickets are £25.

Address: Above The Stag, 72 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, London SE1 7TP


Email: [email protected]

Phone: 020 3488 2815


Facebook: Above The Stag Theatre

Twitter: @abovethestag

Written by Caitlin Neal