The album for this show, I Could Use A Drink, was released in 2013 but there were nonetheless moments when it felt very much like the show was written for 2021. Then again, youthful angst, passion and exhilaration just can’t be frustrated by a global pandemic. Or it could just be that your reviewer can’t help inferring double meanings when characters are singing about their lives: in ‘Right Here’ someone is “patiently waiting” for the love interest they’ve just spent the last few minutes singing about, for instance, but I can’t be the only one out there patiently waiting for the theatres to reopen.
The lyrics go from the sublime (“Good evening gents, step right up into my circus / I’m the ringmaster, and this is where the work is” – not a bad rhyming couplet, really) to the ridiculous (“It’s official: I’m a dick”) and there are times when expletives pour forth like football spectators leaving a stadium after a match, but that is, I suppose, how some people genuinely express themselves these days. A song cycle rather than a musical, each song is complete in itself, though there is one narrative that is helpfully explored from both sides of a relationship. Okay, it also means there are two songs about the same thing, but a more complete picture is formed, and it is a slight pity that the device isn’t used more often here.
The concert stand-and-deliver setting means the production relies almost entirely on the music and lyrics to tell the story. But it appears (at least to me) that some of the lighter numbers partly rely on a response from the audience, and without an in-person audience present, some of the comedic lines fall a little flat. That is, of course, no fault of the cast, whose singing voices are in fine form, and this is one of those recordings that probably needs to be seen and heard more than once to fully appreciate all of the details in all of the songs.
Just when it started to feel like this was one ‘I wish’ song after another – an overflow, if you will, of hope and ambition – I was caught off-guard by a narrative about a teenager (Ahmed Hamad) whose partner had become pregnant. A band of three (Flynn Sturgeon on keys, Alex Maxted on drums and Emily Roberts on guitar) glide through the seventeen musical numbers of various styles. If you’re after a linear storyline, you would find it here: the songs are presented in a slightly different order to the 2013 album listing, but it works just as well in this version.
Some of the situations come across as First World Problems in the grand scheme of things but are nonetheless relatable. (Well, not all of them: one of Caroline Kay’s characters appears to have indulged in a homicide, and not for the first time.) Rather like West Side Story, the vibrancy of certain tunes contrasts with significantly darker subject matters. There’s a stand-out performance from Billy Nevers in ‘I Loved You Too Much’, a tune that reminded me that a world where everyone got on in perfect harmony wouldn’t result in such varied and interesting experiences such as the ones written and sung about in this show.
A few of the songs are sufficiently wordy to draw a comparison between Drew Gaspirini and Jason Robert Brown. I Could Use A Drink isn’t quite as profound as Songs For A New World, but this is a positively intense and heartfelt experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Drew Gasparini’s ‘I Could Use A Drink, an eclectic mix of poignant, hilarious, and progressive contemporary musical theatre, celebrating the chaos and beauty of youth, was created as a US studio album using Broadway’s freshest and most exciting new talents.
Now for its UK premiere, producers Liam Gartland and Alex Conder reimagine its cutting edge musical theatre songs with some of the West End’s stars of the present and the future:
AHMED HAMAD (‘Rent’), BILLY NEVERS (‘& Juliet’/’Jesus Christ Superstar’), CAROLINE KAY (‘Daisy’/‘The Space Between’), LUKE BAYER (‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’/’Soho Cinders’), MAIYA QUANSAH-BREED (‘SIX’, ‘Rent’), OLIVIA LALLO (GSA 2020 graduate) and TOM FRANCIS (‘Rent’).
Musical Direction Flynn Sturgeon
Director Alex Conder
The concert, filmed at Fiction Studios, will be streamed from Friday 7 – Sunday 16 May 2021 on stream.theatre.