Stage Door Johnny: Less Miserable – Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

Cabaret artist Stage Door Johnny is, he says, a fan of musical theatre and Less Miserable is his “love letter and hate mail to Broadway and the West End.” Anyone who has seen any of the Forbidden Broadway series will know the sort of thing – popular show numbers parodied and sent up, and for many who know musical theatre well, this can provide a very funny evening’s entertainment.

Unfortunately Less Miserable doesn’t always manage to hit the mark in the same way.

It gets off to a promising start where Good Morning Baltimore is delivered with all of the lyrics suitably tweaked to fit the venue, followed by a demonstration of how some simple dialogue might sound in the style of Les Mis – some well thought-out material, though possibly missing a trick in only demonstrating Les Mis  in this context. It isn’t long though before the subtlety and wit goes by the board and we turn to more bodily humour in a long version of Clambake involving indigestion, followed, not long after, by The Surrey with the Fringe on Top where each chorus throughout the entire number has been replaced by nothing more than a string of swear words and obscene insults; intended as a demonstration of how lyrics can sometimes be misheard to unfortunate effect.

This actually highlights one of the main difficulties in the show. Humour doesn’t always have to be entirely subtle or clever, but it’s knowing where to stop. After half a chorus, we’ve got the joke. Milking the same concept through an entire number can often start to pall. By all means deliver a whole song if you’ve worked some clever and varied lyrics for it, but if the comedy revolves around getting ill or – as in one number – increasingly sexually aroused, then it’s worth knowing when to stop rather than ploughing on through several choruses.

Among this there are some highlights, however – Love Changes Everything on how people’s behaviour changes after they’ve been together a long time, and a version of People Will Say We’re In Love giving advice on how to avoid annoying your friends on Facebook, both of which hit the mark. There’s also a well-delivered and poignant excerpt of Kindergarten Boyfriend before the evening finishes with an audience sing-along from Bugsy Malone.

Stage Door Johnny has a dedicated following who appreciate everything he does. If you’re one of those, you’ll most likely love it. If, however, you’re thinking to come along as a fan of musical theatre and Forbidden Broadway, then you should approach this show with caution. With more work to refine the content, it has a lot of potential. In its current state, it’s not quite there yet.

Reviewed on 13 April 2018 | Image: Contributed

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