Music &Lyrics: Jeff Bowen
Book: Hunter Bell &Susan Blackwell
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Many people, most famously Douglas Adams, have sought to address ‘life, the universe and everything’. Here the creative team behind 2008’s [title of show] aim to cover this large subject matter by concentrating on the minutiae of life.
[title of show] was a self-referencing musical about the creative team’s efforts to write a musical and the result was a witty post-modern stage show. Here. Now. This uses a similarly insular point of view to look at life in general but by widening the net, falls some way short of the mark.
The cast of four are exceptionally talented performers. Composer and lyricist Jeff Bowen and writers Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell are joined by Heidi Blickenstaff, and all of them give such spirited performances that one is left wishing they had better material to work with. The fact that this is a devised piece by the performers narrow the focus so that many numbers alienate the listener making the whole thing seem like one big group therapy session.
Perhaps this is the point or maybe the piece loses something somewhere over the Atlantic but such navel-gazing seems unseemly and the whole thing suffers from not being half as funny as it thinks it is.
Pathos is touched upon in numbers such as Dazzle Camouflage (about a gay boy’s attempts to disguise his sexuality) and Members Only (covering desperate attempts to be included and noticed) but the very specific and personal circumstances of the situations lead them ultimately not to include the listener but omit them. Other numbers such as I Rarely Schedule Nothing and Give Me Your Attention are just plain annoying. Most frustratingly songs like Golden Palace are initially intriguing and even moving, before degenerating into the by now familiar me, me, me. The score does somewhat redeem itself with some nice ballads in the form of That Will Never Be Me and This Time but the only tune that has any chance of remaining with the listener by the end is More Life which the writers have the sense to reprise as the finale.
The musical arrangements are all very good and help carry most of the weaker tunes while the tight vocal harmonies also contribute greatly. Many of the songs begin well enough but then lose their way and almost all of them end abruptly.
Both musically and thematically, the show draws comparisons to Avenue Q. Sadly the wit and warmth apparent in Avenue Q are almost completely absent here as is the precision with which the show’s targets are set up and hit.
So…a show full of potential and showing promising glimmers but sadly scuppered by being too self absorbed and not original or bold enough …. Perhaps the writers have successfully encapsulated life after all.