Music, Book & Lyrics: Emily Moody & Pete Moody
Reviewer: Christie-Luke Jones
Parenthood – The (Brand New!) Musical Revue is a whistle-stop comedy tour through the highs and lows of raising kids; from antenatal classes to leaving home, and everything in between. Taking a light-hearted, but full-blooded swing at Instagram parenting, Parenthood lifts the lid on what it really takes to be mummy or daddy; complete with fear, flatulence, and failed fornication.
The first thing to note about Parenthood is that it is, in many respects, far from polished. Its original score is varied, but undoubtedly lo-fi, and the choreography, while charming, is far from slick or innovative. This all arguably lends itself to the subject matter, however, as dad bods and school nativities are hardly congruous with sweeping orchestral scores and pinpoint arabesques.
Its two-act structure is packed to the gills with twenty-two songs and a generous assortment of sketches – with mixed results. The first act suffers at times from poor acoustics, mostly because the performers aren’t individually microphoned up. Voices at the edges of the stage are often drowned out and sections of songs are lost altogether whenever a character is facing away from the audience. It also takes the backstage team a long time to find a suitable volume for the score, which unfortunately buries most of the opening six song’s more interesting vocal melodies.
There are, however, several gems to be found in Parenthood’s inaugural act. The dad-led number Strong Swimmers is a hilarious cock-rock parody about hyper virility – complete with deliciously ironic fist pumps, pleather jackets and Bret Michaels-esque bandanas. Jordan Brown and Ben Gaston are both clearly having a great time with this, and more importantly, so is the audience. PTA Mum also delivers some serious swagger, mostly thanks to a strong lead vocal performance from Emily Clare in the song’s eponymous role. It’s also an absolute hoot to see the dads squirm their way through the song in ‘sexy’ backing dancer roles, maintaining the show’s running riff on fathers very much taking a backseat in the parenting game.
Act two is when Parenthood and its ensemble cast really find their feet. Katie Rayner excels with Auntie Jen, a thought-provoking song about a career woman happy in her decision not to have children of her own. Rayner exudes an easy charisma, delivering clean, distinct vocals that provide a welcome departure from the somewhat sedate ensemble numbers in Parenthood’sopening act. Her physical acting is also spot-on, each nudge and wink consistently hitting the comedy bullseye. This knack for competent physical performance is continued by Elizabeth Cachia and Ben Gaston in sketch-cum-musical number Nookie, in which Cachia and Gaston’s mum and dad attempt to reignite their sex life E.L. James-style. The audience is in hysterics as the painfully British couple try, and fail, to copulate with Cachia awkwardly writhing around on Gaston’s lap as he languidly eyes a takeaway menu and ponders buying a new lawnmower. All this is punctuated with deliciously Fawlty Towers-like entrances by flouncy teenage daughter Naomi Jones, who successfully dials up her brat-meter to eleven to complete the picture. There are some genuinely touching moments too – in particular Flying the Nest, which perfectly conveys parents’ conflicting emotions towards their children finally leaving home through wonderfully bittersweet four-part vocal harmonies.
Parenthood – A (Brand New!) Musical Revue is a plucky attempt at cutting through the social media guff and presenting the parenting life in all its rough-edged glory. There are some brilliantly British comedic moments peppered throughout, as well as some poignant reflections on what it means to be a parent, all delivered by a vocally talented cast with keen comedy chops. It is, however, a little overstuffed, with some of the quick-fire sketches coming and going without leaving much of a mark on the audience, and several of the musical numbers failing to do anything particularly interesting with their melodies. With a little trimming, and a frank assessment of the show’s technical shortcomings, this could be something very special.