I am often suspicious of shows that haven’t been exposed to London audiences for some years, and this one hasn’t been done in London since 1981. In the same year Cats opened in the West End, notching up 8,949 performances before it closed, compared to this show’s 62. Similar themes exposed in A Chorus Line and Hair come to the fore in this musical (those shows had the same original producer, Joseph Papp, as this one), and I wonder if this show isn’t more popular at least partly because of its title. I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road is hardly punchy. The whole title, for example, didn’t fit on the box office tickets. It could also be argued that prevailing attitudes towards female writers may have had a hand in there not being more productions over the years.
My own take on this is down to its success in a small space like the Jermyn Street Theatre. If this production is anything to go by, it’s such a tight and compact piece that it would lose its punchiness in a more traditional proscenium arch theatre. In a sentence, it’s practically confined – for want of a better word – to studio theatres, and thus its exposure is limited to the number of people that can be accommodated accordingly.
The show starts before its start time, with cast and band on stage as the audience continues to file in. It is for the audience to imagine what they are talking about (they cannot be heard at this point), but it is evident that there is some sort of gig that’s about to begin. It transpires as soon as Joe (Nicolas Colicos) enters sometime after everyone else that this isn’t the case at all. If the musical’s title isn’t catchy, the songs contained therein are (for the most part), easy on the ears but not too soppy. When the occasion calls for it, such as the unsubtly titled ‘Strong Woman Number’, there’s power and verve, but without the hair-dryer treatment. It’s a flawless balance achieved by a skilled band led by Nick Barstow, and what we get is a broad range of musical numbers in the general style of classic rock.
My initial thoughts on seeing the hippy-style outfits – including sunglasses worn indoors and headbands – was that the show would be stuck in a time vacuum. Indeed, the specific terminology with regards to the show’s themes of female empowerment and better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all, is outdated. It is, however, commensurate with the period the musical is set in. Repeated name-dropping of certain celebrities leaves the audience in no doubt what time period the events of the show take place, and the style of music adds further to a distinct late Seventies feel.
But some of it is timeless, particularly in the tussle between the creative artist Heather (Landi Oshinowo) wanting to branch out in a different musical direction to the one she’s been in up to this point, and her manager Joe wanting to maintain what works and what the general public (allegedly) demand. In one sense that’s all the show seems to be about: a disagreement resolved on the same day, and in an amicable and civilised manner, without the need for litigation. In another sense, however, there’s so much more to it than that.
That this is now a period piece dulls its shock factor, in which we now watch an absorbing performance but without ever getting immersed in it. There is a distancing effect, reinforced by the show being devoid of corny breaches of the fourth wall. Scottie (Alice Offley) reveals the show’s critical incident, involving an off-stage character, in such a deadpan manner that I could not help but chuckle even if the news itself was no laughing matter. Elsewhere, a scene involving a minstrel-style ‘blackface’ takes on a deeply ironic meaning with Oshinowo’s Heather putting on ‘whiteface’ (the role as originally written does not specify ethnicity, and race-related issues are therefore not explicitly explored) – and I make no apology for throwing in a little spoiler here: Joe denounces the whole affair as “offensive” at the first opportunity.
Unusually for a show of this nature that already has an original London cast recording, there’s some serious consideration being given to a cast recording of this revival. I do hope it happens – I’d like to enjoy this cast’s performances in some way long after this short run at Jermyn Street Theatre has finished. But there’s one voice that won’t be on it, unless some spoken dialogue is retained. The dulcet tones of Nicolas Colicos are disappointingly missing from this production – his is a non-singing part. This is more than made up for in some highly convincing straight acting. That said, there’s some energy lost in the long pieces of dialogue between musical numbers, which the company must work hard to quickly re-establish once the music gets going again. They make it look so very easy, and hit the mark every time without fail.
Overall, it’s a gritty and impassioned piece of theatre, and well worth considering for theatregoers who like exploring good but lesser well-known musicals.
Review by Chris Omaweng
This first UK revival of this ground-breaking, long running, off-Broadway and West End musical – I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it On the Road – marks the show’s triumphant return to London 35 years after it was first seen at the West End.
Featuring a stellar cast led by West End stars Landi Oshinowo (Shrek, Barnum, Sister Act) and Nicolas Colicos (Mamma Mia, Sunset Boulevard, Sister Act, The Bodyguard). They will be joined by Rosanna Hyland (Urinetown, Sister Act, Shrek), Kristen Gaetz (42 Street on Broadway, White Christmas US Tour, Crazy for You US Tour), David Gibbons (LSMT), Alice Offley (Teddy, The Secret Rapture), Rich Craig (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Waterloo).
This new production promises to lead audiences on a moving and emotionally charged musical journey about love, friendships and new beginnings. Described as a ‘controversial sensation’, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it On the Road marked a watershed moment in the history of musical theatre when it first premiered, challenging gender roles through the exploration of friendships, relationships and the pursuit of personal goals. Now, London audiences will experience a new production of this touching, poignant and hilarious show.
Presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH.
I’M GETTING MY ACT TOGETHER AND TAKING IT ON THE ROAD
Book & Lyrics by Gretchen Cryer
Music by Nancy Ford
Directed By Matthew Gould
Musical Direction Nick Barstow
Designed by Matthew Gould and Edward Iliffe
Lighting Design By Mitchell Reeve
Running time: 90 minutes without interval.
Wed, 6th – Sat, 23rd July