MusicalOnlineReview

U.Me: The Complete Musical – BBC World Service

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Book and Lyrics: Simon Pitts and Theo Jamieson

Music: Theo Jamieson

Simon Pitts and Theo Jamieson take us back to the pandemic with an online love story happening across continents between two people who meet through work and struggle to deal with their loneliness. Premiering on the BBC World Service, U.Me: The Complete Musical is a new two-act musical that accelerates its plot to bring characters together before they properly deserve audience investment. The 50-minute first act is certainly a little cheesy, but the second part picks up the pace. taking the show in a more interesting direction.

Rose is locked down in London while San Francisco resident Ryo is in Japan when they start to meet out of working hours, forming a strong bond that becomes increasingly important to them. But soon real life gets in the way with life events drawing them away from each other. When Ryo impulsively decides to fly to London to meet Rose, their lives take an unexpected turn.

Essentially a romcom on the radio, U.Me: The Complete Musical adopts a very traditional musical style, blending some spoken scenes with a primarily sung-through approach to tell the story from the perspective of the two central characters. Initially, the production leans into its technological roots, dramatising instant messages, video calls and voicemails sent between Ryo and Rose but as the story unfolds, all of the characters increasingly jettison online communication to speak directly or perform inner monologue solos.

Act Two is considerably more engaging than the more traditional first part which makes demands on the listeners’ emotional responses that the protagonists have not yet earned, asking us to invest in a relationship between two people who barely know one another and the wider dramas of their lives. But the primary focus on Rose and her deteriorating mental health as the world opens up again is more skilful, exploring the longer-term effects of pandemic loneliness, increasing anxiety in crowds and social situations as well as Rose’s irritability as her panic attacks develop.

This part of the performance is also musically more interesting, adopting a broader style of composition including upbeat pop, orchestral pieces and a Sondheim-like spoken style that proves much more adventurous than the very similar-sounding introspective numbers that fill out Act One.

U.Me: The Complete Musical’s biggest selling point is Anoushka Lucas as Rose whose ranging and distinctive vocal has made her such a sought-after performer. Although Pitts and Jamieson’s book gives her little depth to work with, Lucas strongly conveys Rose’s feeling of being continually untethered and abandoned, carrying the show through its two 50-minute segments. Martian Sarreal’s Ryo has very little substance in comparison and the sidelining of his character later in the story goes almost unnoticed.

The story makes use of a narrator, Stephen Fry, used more in the first act to navigate between the different locations but with a greatly reduced role in Act Two when Rose takes centre stage. Eventually confronting her own demons and learning to love herself, U.Me: The Complete Musical has a bit too much plot but there is value in a love story about self-appreciation taking the character and the audience somewhere they don’t necessarily expect.

U.Me: The Complete Musical’ will launch on 21 February 2024 on BBC World Service, BBC Sounds, YouTube and podcast providers.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Radio rom-com

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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