Lyrics: Marcellus Schiffer
Music: Mischa Spoliansky
English Adaptor: Steven Edis
Director: Anna Cabré-Verdiell
Manchester’s Hope Mill has a reputation for staging vintage musicals which never made it to the UK. In the past these have originated in the USA but Es Liegt in der Luft originally staged in Germany in 1928 finally crosses the Channel in a new translation by Steven Edis as It’s In The Air!
Well, almost. The production at Hope Mill comprises a single act featuring nine songs extracted from the full 24-song score. It is intended as a way of assessing audience appetite/ funding opportunities to determine the viability of staging the complete show in the future.
This is not to say the current production is skimpy. Many works in progress feature no more than the cast reading from the script but tonight a full five-piece band backs a very enthusiastic cast (Meriel Cunningham, Owen Clayton, Jessica Hope and Enrico Volpi) and dance routines include a wedding dress train used to provide a hint of Busby Berkeley glamour. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder the extent to which the showcase nature of tonight’s show accurately reflects the full musical.
In 1928 a sale at the Wertheim Department Store in Berlin provokes eccentric behaviour amongst staff and customers. Parents misplace their children. Shoplifters are driven into a sensual frenzy by the illicit pleasure of stealing. A married woman becomes so obsessed with a cut-price wedding dress she decides to get wed all over again. A pair of women who are more than good friends invite a boyfriend to join them in a ménage à trois.
From the nine-song showcase it is hard to tell if the full musical has a narrative. Although themes are apparent, with satirical criticism of obsessive consumerism and gleeful celebration of sexual identity, they are treated in isolation rather than drawn together. Anna Cabré-Verdiell directs the showcase in the manner of a cabaret/music hall act. The cast are aware of, and interact with, the band and the audience; including inviting a patron onstage to participate in a wedding ceremony. Rather than advance the plot as is usual in a musical the songs are performed as one-off sketches. While there are occasional running gags – the haberdashery department is hard to locate- and certain characters re-occur; there is no overriding plot.
While the sketch format works very well for the short showcase a full-length musical may require a more conventional approach to retain audience interest. However, despite its fragmented nature. the showcase version of It’s In The Air! is stylish and polished. The cast throw themselves into the show cheerfully switching between characters and engaging with the audience in the best music hall tradition. Although the original musical dates back to 1928 there is no sign of age in Steven Edis’s highly contemporary and very cheeky adaptation. A Carry On moment of a dress getting ripped off brings a distinctly British vibe to the German musical.
It’s In The Air! certainly fulfils the objective of whetting the appetite to see the full show. Yet is worth seeing in its present abbreviated format not just to enjoy the imaginative staging and excellent acting but to take part in an interesting way of assessing the commercial potential a forgotten gem.
Runs until 23 June 2022