I don’t think I’ve ever been really obsessed with anything. Okay, so 90% of the content of my iPod comes from musical theatre, but that’s normal isn’t it? Therefore, I’ve often wondered what it must be like to have a real obsession and how your life, is affected if that obsession grows and becomes more dominant as the years go by. Well, thanks to Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe and his new production Musical of the Year at The Lost Theatre, I now know.
It’s 1955 and newly married college sweethearts Rudy Brown (Robbie Smith) and Lizzie Conlon (Rebecca Gilliland) are discussing Rudy’s opera based on Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. Rudy isn’t happy with the finished product and is talking about re-imaging the show as a musical theatre presentation. Having no real experience of writing in this genre, Rudy basis his new version of the show on that year’s award-winning musical in the hope that he can emulate the style and award-winning potential. This is a start of a sixty year battle with ‘Notre Dame’ for Rudy as each year he reviews and rewrites his score in the style of that year’s best musical in the hope that one day, he will be able to pick up the coveted award himself.
As each new version of the show is developed, the ‘Notre Dame’ story moves along, and the audience get to see and hear this year’s version of the story of Quasimodo (Jamie Fillery), his love for Esmeralda (Jennifer Tilley) and their battle with the besotted Archdeacon Dom Claude (Kevin Rodgers), vain Captain Phoebus (Colin Kiyani) – engaged to the virtuous Fleur-De-Lys (Jessica Hern) – poet Gringoire (Simon Hodson), gypsy-hating Sister Gudule (Victoria Waddington) and various peasants, soldiers, gypsies etc (Chiara Brooke, Miranda Colmans, Mark Houston and Domonic Ramsden)
As Rudy’s obsession grows, it takes a toll on his home life with Lizzie and the rest of his family. Will Rudy’s sacrifice pay off in the end and will ‘Notre Dame’ Finally be his magnum Opus?
When Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe sat down with Director Owain Rose and fleshed out the plot for Musical of the Year, I wonder if they realised what they were getting themselves into. After all, there are three separate but ultimately entwined elements to this show. First you the story of Rudy and Lizzie and their relationship together, then there is the actual Victor Hugo story to tell in its own right and finally, there are sixty years of musical theatre winning productions to examine and be used for Musical of the Year’s twenty-one songs. Each song, not only moving the ‘Notre Dam’ story but along but also having a style that is instantly recognisable for the audience. Did Stephen manage to do this? You bet he did and it with style. Being fairly fond of musical theatre, I was in my element watching Musical of the Year. Without giving too much away about the musical styles used, my favourites amongst the excellent musical numbers were – in no particular order – ‘Sister Gudule’s Turn’, ‘The Trial’, Thundering Footsteps’ and my ultimate favourite ‘I Yearn as I Burn’. I don’t want to give too much away about the music but if you have seen one or two musicals, then you will have no trouble identifying each song’s style – and if you do, they tell you in the programme.
Rudy and Lizzie’s story is not just a hook to hang the songs on and works very well in its own right with both Robbie and Rebecca providing excellent representations of the two partners as their relationship crumbles and they get visibly and very realistically older over the course of sixty years. On the ‘Notra Dame’ side, the entire cast have to be applauded for not only delivering a totally comprehensive story but, more importantly doing it in different singing and performing styles. From the sweet innocence of children in ‘Annie’ to the blatant sexuality of ‘Cabaret’ each song is performed perfectly, both as powerful solo numbers and large-scale ensemble pieces, by this highly talented team.
The stage at the Lost Theatre is not that large and Designer Frank Turnbull’s multi-location set, takes up a bit of room but the smooth direction and excellent choreography by Emma Pleass ensure it never feels cramped or that the cast are in danger of falling over each other, even in the highly energetic finale.
I think it’s fairly obvious that I loved Musical of the Year and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the show. To my mind, the show definitely deserves a lot of success, with a transfer to the West End – winning Best Musical obviously – a long run on Broadway (room for a ‘Tony’ on the mantlepiece), Grammy award-winning cast album and eventual Oscar-winning movie. Until all that happens, I would recommend that any lover of musical theatre gets themselves down Wandsworth Road and catches this awesome show while they can.
Review by Terry Eastham
Elokay Productions Present
Musical of the Year
at the Lost Theatre, October 12-29, 2016
It’s 1955 and college sweethearts Rudy Brown and Lizzie Conlon embark on writing the ultimate award-winning musical. So begins a 60-year process of adapting the same musical to the styles of My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Cabaret, Les Miserables, Wicked, and virtually every other show in the musical theatre canon. Will they ever win Musical of the Year?
From the writing team of Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe (book, music, and lyrics) and Owain Rose (book), Musical of the Year is being presented for its inaugural theatrical run at The Lost Theatre this autumn. With Direction by Owain Rose (Misterman, Upstairs at the Gatehouse; Silence, The Bull in Barnet), Musical Direction by Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe (Beowulf, Travesty Theatre; Fallen Angels, Upstairs at the Gatehouse), and Choreography by Emma Pleass (Cabaret, The Lund Theatre; Scaramouche, the Zany Commedia Musical, Hoxton Hall), the show will run from October 12-29 with a cast of 14 and Design by Frank Turnbull (Blackadder, The Bull Theatre; Frankenstein, Upstairs at the Gatehouse).
Cast include: Chiara Brooke, Miranda Colmans, Jamie Fillery, Rebecca Gilliland, Jessica Hern, Simon Hodson, Mark Houston, Colin Kiyani, Domonic Ramsden, Kevin Rodgers, Robbie Smith, Jennifer Tilley, Andrew Truluck, and Victoria Waddington.
MUSICAL OF THE YEAR
Wednesday 12 to Saturday 29 October
Tuesday-Friday at 7:30, Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30, Sundays 1t 2:30
Press Night: Friday 14 October
at The LOST Theatre, 208 Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2JU