I don’t tune into Sky News very often these days, though an indication of their meteoric rise since its launch in 1989, well within living memory, lies in its sharing of the production of The Queen’s Christmas Message To The Commonwealth with BBC and ITN, since 2011. One thing immediately struck me as I sipped red wine in the bar of the Union Theatre, having arrived earlier than I intended (I couldn’t help it if the London Underground was actually running a ‘good service’). It may be somewhat surprising Sky News: The Musical hasn’t already been produced – and even this is not yet the finished product, being “in concert”. After all, Facebook: The Musical made an appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009, even if it wasn’t very well received.
Perhaps inevitably, the songs drive the narrative. There’s a good range of tunes in what we heard – I got the distinct impression that composer and musical director Tony Greenlaw chose not to unleash every song that will form the final version. Either that or this will turn out to be a rather short musical: in the second half the audience were treated to a long section of Greenlaw’s standalone songs, full of as much observational wit as the ‘Sky News’ tunes.
The ‘other’ songs demonstrated a wide assortment of topics and styles. ‘New Parent Problems’, a song largely self-explanatory from its title, brought the house down in a description of a product displayed on eBay placed in the wrong category. A tune about women’s problems (my recollection has failed me; I don’t recall the title) virtually took the form of a Gilbert and Sullivan type ‘patter song’, getting through a lot of words very quickly. ‘For A While’ considers the irrational thoughts of someone having an irrational moment or two (or five, as the thoughts were expressed through song). I rather enjoyed ‘Making Tracks’, apparently about Brownie Wise, the founder of Tupperware parties, who was forced out of the Tupperware organisation by men who didn’t like a woman’s success, this being the 1950s. As for Sky News: The Musical, the news reports, eyewitness testimony and inner thoughts of characters involved in the stories form the songs. These are not the sort of stories laden with parliamentary debate or complex socio-economic matters. I personally don’t remember ever watching any Sky News bulletins featuring slightly quirky tales of the sort featured in this show, but on the rare occasion that I do catch the ITV News at Ten, I note they have retained their ‘And Finally’ feature, ending the broadcast on a high note. They recently reported on an octogenarian couple from Warsaw who attended the Fabric nightclub in London, and literally danced the night away, not leaving until 5am.
Here, a ‘new’ Barbie doll with the capacity for artificial intelligence is a story that is returned to. I should imagine this will be the case for more of the stories featured in this concert showcase, otherwise it simply becomes a series of news stories, each with its own set of characters, that are never referred to again and have no relation to anything else that happens in the show. The character list (not that we were provided with one) is necessarily large. The cast is sufficiently large, too – this is not exactly The 39 Steps with dozens of characters played by a company of just four – the big finish, when it came, showed off a powerful harmony on a par with established West End productions.
The show is highly imaginative, and in its concert format, the words and music are all we can focus on. Just as well, then, that they are hilarious and magnificent, and I am confident that a decent set design, costumes, and so on, will only add to the fun and enjoyment of the musical. There seemed to be a habit of trying to see things from an alternative perspective, most notably in a song which was introduced by the ‘Sky News presenter’ as a news item about frivolous calls to the emergency services, but ended up focusing on a particular call handler and her difficult life. Elsewhere, songs saw stories from both sides of the coin – a song about a man parting company with his pet dog (quite why is not explained) is simultaneously poignant and deeply unsentimental, the latter because the dog (rather implausibly, in my humble opinion) has no sense of loyalty. No matter: there are certain minor details that are probably embellished from the stories they are based on, but they make for good theatre.
There’s a part of me that feels slightly short changed at not having seen the full production. But, as I’ve said before, it’s better for a show to leave the audience wanting more than for it to have outstayed its welcome. The creative possibilities are immense when bringing to life stories like these, and this show has explored very extensively the scope of inventive storytelling. The choreography is vibrant, the songs full of flair and genius, the tunes beautifully melodic. I look forward to the fully staged and completed Sky News: The Musical. I could go on, but in the spirit of news broadcast clichés, I’m sorry, but we have to leave it there, thank you.
Review by Chyris Omaweng
Pond Productions presents
SKY NEWS THE MUSICAL – In concert!
Music and lyrics by Tony Greenlaw
Not All News is Bad News
After premiering many of the songs at Feinstien’s/54 Below in NYC and Phoenix Artist Club in London earlier this year, join musical theatre songwriter Tony Greenlaw and his cast of musical theatre powerhouses as they bring you SKY NEWS THE MUSICAL – In Concert! at the Union Theatre London.
What if, just for one day, there was no bad news to report? There would be nothing left on our screens, apart from the ‘human interest’ stories normally saved for the end of news broadcasts. With each song based on real-life ‘human interest’ from actual Sky News broadcasts – ranging from deranged stalking squirrels to living Barbie dolls –
come enjoy an evening of heartfelt laughter and fun in a relaxed, cabaret atmosphere.
SKY NEWS THE MUSICAL is a debut musical from Kent-based Pond Productions, and is set for its first fully staged production in April 2017. The show, devised entirely from true-life human interest stories broadcast on Sky News, was chosen to be one of the showcased new musicals at BEAM 2016 at the Park Theatre in March.
19th – 21st May 2016
THE UNION THEATRE
204 UNION STREET
LONDON, SE1 0LX