Bumblescratch is a new sung-through musical comedy with book, music and lyrics by Robert J. Sherman. Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666 and told from the perspective of a demented, lascivious plague rat named Melbourne Bumblescratch, who demonstrates his unique and twisted love affair with the ancient city through telling his marvellously gruesome tales.
Bumblescratch played a charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre, London on 4th September 2016, directed and choreographed by Stewart Nicholls, musical direction by Tom Kelly, and orchestrated by Rowland Lee. The London Concert Cast Recording features the original band and cast, was recorded at Angel Studios, and stars West End performers Darren Day, Jessica Martin, Michael Xavier and Ilan Galkoff, plus comes complete with a full-colour booklet including productions photographs and lyrics.
Read our review by Chris Omaweng:
Just minutes into the Bumblescratch London Concert Cast Recording, it was already clear that the title
character, Melbourne Bumblescratch (Darren Day), was not entirely unlike Fagin in the Lionel Bart musical Oliver!; ‘Socrates Presents His Plan’ in the former almost matches the famed ‘Reviewing The Situation’ in the latter.
Here, Bumblescratch, the mischievous rat (for that is what he is) indulges in criminal activity, and quite how anyone goes about trying to catch, arrest and put on a trial an actual rat is anyone’s guess. Not that too much time should be spent thinking about that sort of thing – suspension of disbelief is required here, which would have been easier had the show not used real events in seventeenth-century London as backdrops for the narrative. To be fair, though, a musical number called ‘I Cannot Hear You’ explores the incredulity of certain elements of the plot with comic self-awareness.
Plot-wise and lyric-wise, it’s not perfect. I couldn’t figure out what the actual ‘excuse’ was in ‘At Least A Rat ‘As Got An Excuse’ (Cockney accents are commonplace on this recording, albeit mercifully without Cockney rhyming slang), or even what the excuse was an excuse for. In one number, ‘adorable’ was rhymed with ‘adorable’, which came across as a little uncreative and too safe. This is billed as a sung-through musical, which I find to be a dubious assertion, looking at the synopsis, which I found myself consulting several times whilst listening to this cast recording, in order to get my head around what happened in between certain musical numbers.
This recording is very much in the style of musical theatre as it was before the likes of Wicked and Rent came along with their chart music style rhythms. There is, however, a contemporary spin, as the musical numbers always drive forward the storyline, and we’re never left waiting for a song and dance to finish so the plot can continue. Some of the tunes are wordy. They are not as quirky and philosophical as some of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and compositions – they are, however, more melodic. Two soaring melodies, in reasonably quick succession, are worthy of note, ‘Music of The Spheres’ and ‘My Place In The Sun’, both delivered the big and bold manner so beloved by West End and Broadway audiences.
The most vociferous (to borrow a term from the recording) of forward thinkers may not be best pleased with the inclusion of God, as understood by the Christian faith, in a contemporary production such as this, let alone with positive and active intervention by Him in response to a prayer. My personal view is that this is an element of the story that would be commensurate with commonly held beliefs in 1665-66 in London, and would remind anti-religionists that this is, at the end of the day, a work of fiction.
But if God could not be kept out of the story, it is the voice of an angel that shines brightest. The stand out performance is from young Ilan Galkoff, 13 years of age, as Perry, perhaps the closest thing Bumblescratch has to Oliver Twist, to continue an analogy that I started with. I also enjoyed listening to Cathy Read’s Thamesa, though for reasons explained in the course of the narrative, the part is small, and it is regrettable that her lovely vocals are not more prominently featured.
There’s something for all the family in this recording, with hummable and memorable choruses. I would imagine the darkest of the darker moments, properly staged, would not be suitable for the very young. Overall, the variation in tempo and style of musical numbers is excellent, and there’s a vitality in this recording that makes it a pleasure to listen to.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Bumblescratch is available to pre-order in physical format from www.SimGProductions.com now (and available digitally in early 2017), and will be release on Monday 19th December 2016.