Music, Book and Lyrics: Sam Cassidy
Music: Matt Wills
Directors: Arlene Phillips and Sam Cassidy
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
It’s not often the glitterati are tempted away from the West End to a fringe theatre outside the bounds of Zone 1, but the opening night of 27: The Rise of a Falling Star had them flocking to the Cockpit Theatre north of Marylebone. This musical, co-written by Matt Wills and Sam Cassidy, plays on the infamous 27 club – a group of musicians primarily including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse – who died aged 27, leaving unfulfilled potential.
As the show opens, The Argonauts have been turned down by every record company in town leaving Max, Jason and their lead singer, the 23-year-old Jimi on the verge of giving up. But the Fates have a starry future in mind for the band with Jimi in particular singled out for fame and adoration. four years pass in a whirl of success, Jimi turns 27 and he must pay the price. Will he be able to hold on to his sweet girlfriend, Amy; can he overcome his drug addictions, and can he beat the infamous 27 curse?
27: The Rise of a Falling Star is a rather messy and frankly bizarre evening at the theatre. For a rock musical, it is curiously lacking in songs with considerably more time given over to cheesy dialogue telling a convoluted love story about a rock star and his girlfriend. It starts strongly with flashing beams of coloured light and an anthemic tune sung by the Fates, but the tone immediately slackens as the dreary story of the band members and Jimi’s simpering relationship are established with a cheesy ballad before the audience has had a chance to decide if they even care about these characters. Two-and-a-half hours later you still don’t.
There are a lot of influences at play here, which add to the confusion; it is part Faustus, part Greek mythology and part Macbeth?We have a pact with the devil to grant Jimi his fame while, in Act 2, Jimi – – who takes the stage-nameOrpheus – travels to the underworld to rescue his girlfriend, but must solve three riddles (Oedipus’story) while one of these is to overcome Medusa, which is actually from the Perseus legend. What all of this has to do with the price of fame is unclear.
The Macbeth references actually work rather well and feed nicely through the entire production, starting with the Fates who, like the three witches, set the hero on a path to his own destruction by promising him his heart’s desire, while several quotes and even a Lady Macbeth-esque temptress, Ms M, wills him on. Maisey Bawden, Eloise Davies and Jodie Jacobs who play the Fates are a fantastic presence, yet all-but-disappear after the interval and could be better utilised in shaping and directing the story.
Ryan-Lee Seager and Lucy Martin’s set-piece choreography is very nice, bringing a real energy and excitement to the ensemble pieces and it is in these moments, presumably directed primarily by Arlene Phillips, where the show begins to come alive as Nick Eve’s exciting lighting design sets the scenes beautifully. It’s just such a shame that Sam Cassidy’s book feels dismal alongside it with lines like “what happened to my beautiful boy… you gave pieces of yourself away to anyone who wants them” and “just because it isn’t real, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” feeling cringe-worthy and insincere.
As a result, and with a cast largely comprised of singers, the acting is often rather problematic as well. Greg Oliver throws everything in as Jimi/Orpheus and, despite a stunning opener to Act 2 with I’m Alive, it never feels as though he mines the depths of real addiction, exhaustion and suffering. Cassie Compton has a beautiful voice but her Amy has nothing to do but look unhappy, while Jack Donnelly’s Max and Ryan Gibb’s Jason don’t get so much as a decent subplot to keep them going. Although, Lucy Martin vamps-it-up brilliantly as the seductive Ms M.
27: The Rise of a Falling Star could have been so much more and even a tacked-on TV show chat about ourobsession with making stars and then hounding them to destruction felt empty because we never actually get to see this world-famous band perform. It’s a great idea for a show and one the cast have clearly put their full energy into but, despite a few nice moments, it burns out long before Jimi does. And like all those 27 Club members, it’s full of unfulfilled potential.
Runs until22 October 2016 | Image: Nick Ross