There is a kind of excitement when visiting the theatre. You never know exactly what you are going to see but you do know that you will be sat in your seat watching the culmination of the work of various people – writers, producers, directors, designers, actors etc. But before you get your backside on the seat, you have to encounter the people charged with making sure that everything is in place to let you enjoy the show. Welcome then to the world the “Ushers The Front of House Musical” currently playing at the Arts Theatre.
Tonight is a big night for Theatre Manager Robin Pocketts (Harry Stone). In fact it’s not just a big night, it’s a BIG night! For tonight his theatre has the opening of the latest blockbuster jukebox musical – ‘Oops I Did It Again’ – and the Chairman and board of The Theatre Network – motto ‘Making Theatre Better’ are all going to be there. Robin needs his band of ushers to be on top form tonight (he’s after a promotion). Unfortunately, he has rather a misfit bunch to work with. There is resting actor Ben (Rory Maguire) and his boyfriend, resting actor Gary (Ben Fenner) who are having problems in their three year romance. Then there is resting actor Stephen (Cameron Sharp) and Leading Man enthusiast Rosie (Alexandra Parkes). Finally, he has a newbie working her first shift on the team, newly graduated actor Lucy (Corrine Priest). Over the programs, CDs, merchandising material, ice cream and chocolates, each of the team thinks about their present and their futures both personally and professionally, until finally the show ends and they move on with their lives.
“Ushers The Front of House Musical” is an absolute diamond of a show from start to finish. Obviously as a reviewer I do go to the theatre quite a bit and like to think that I am always polite to the ushers and front of house staff, but it turned out last night whilst I smiled and thanked the usher who showed me to my seat, I never actually noticed the person behind the black waistcoat, name badge and red tie. If I had, I might have realised that the show started a good while before I thought it was going to. I’m guessing that Book writer James Rottger has either worked as an usher himself or knows a lot of people who have, because he captured the spirit of the profession beautifully. Even wonderful touches like the TN training videos were really authentic as my companion, who used to be an usher for a large theatre owning company, was telling me after the show. The music by Yiannis Koutsakos and lyrics by James Oban, are really fun and also quite emotional at times. Each of the cast get an opportunity to do a solo song that expands their personality and helps the audience understand them really well. My favourite of these had to be ‘Leading Men’ which was a really fantastic song superbly delivered by Alexandra Parkes who held the audience in the palm of her hand as she delivered wonderful lyrics and a superb dance routine – great choreography by Russell Smith – to howls of appreciative laughter and applause. There is a lot of comedy in the show – with some wonderful references to current events in the theatrical world – but at the same time there were some quite emotional moments such as Ben and Lucy’s discussion on being an usher that was really poignant and probably spoke to the vast majority of drama school graduates who work front of house whilst waiting for their big break.
The cast, under Director Max Reynolds, kept the pace moving fast and have a real energy about them that keep the audience spellbound for the entire 80 minute run of the show. Each of them is perfect in their role but my favourite was Harry Stone who manages to make the truly disgusting, bigoted, sexually predatory and highly cynical exploiter of people, Robin into someone that you can’t really hate, a great piece of acting.
If you like theatre and want a truly superb entertaining night out, then “Ushers The Front of House Musical” is definitely for you. Two words of advice to end on, don’t be late – Ushers hate latecomers and the spoon is in the lid.
Review by Terry Eastham
USHERS The Front of House Musical
After a triumphant run at the Edinburgh Fringe, the smash hit Off West End musical USHERS: The Front of House Musical returns to the London stage at the ARTS theatre for a limited run.
Following a working shift in the lives of the stagiest people in the theatre – the front of house staff, portraying the hilarious, ridiculous and frequently moving stories of ice-cream and programme sellers who dare to dream…
A preview performance of a new jukebox musical is due to take place, a three-year workplace romance is on the rocks, an untrained newbie is working her first shift and the amorous manager is under pressure to cut costs. What could possibly go wrong?
Music by Yiannis Koutsakos, Lyrics by James Oban and Yiannis Koutsakos and Book and additional lyrics by James Rottger,
Directed by Max Reynolds, Choreography by Russell Smith and Musical Direction by James Cleeve.
Produced by Matthew Cundy Productions and Kouban Productions
Ushers The Front of House Musical
9th September 2015 to 18th October 2015
Running time: 80 minutes – no interval
Age recommendation: 14+
Last Updated Tuesday 15th September 2015