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Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical

Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Jukebox Musical started its run at the Omnibus theatre this week. The 2 hander production takes place in a black box theatre setting, it runs at about 70 minutes and is, NOT, a play about Madonna!

Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical. Photo by Harry Elletson.
Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical. Photo by Harry Elletson.

Maybe it’s coincidental that the run aligns with National HIV Testing Week 2023. Although I suspect not. This play is a deep dive into the world of a gay man living with HIV and coming to terms with the side effects of daily medication fighting the virus yet killing his essence!

The piece opens with our protagonist, Brian (played by Brian Mullin) delivering a piece by a camera to Madonna on why he is the perfect candidate to write her Jukebox Musical for her – Sounds simple enough, however, what follows is a commentary on the art of storytelling – very meta – how the process of creating art can be cathartic when dealing with trauma.

There are 2 onstage performers in this piece, Brian Mullin who plays “Brian” and Dan de La Matte who portrays “Everyone else”. Both are very skilled actors and deliver believable, credible performances with integrity. I was particularly impressed with the way that Dan de la Matte morphed into multiple characters with ease. In one scene Brian is interacting with multiple people within seconds of each other and de la Matte’s transition is seamless – a change in gait, posture, voice and he is able to deliver up to 5 different personas.

There is also the voice of Nadya Ginsburg, as “her” – I’m not sure why they didn’t use soundbites of Madonna here, but I suspect it may have been to do with cost or license availability.

The piece is a mash-up of Brian’s battle with his HIV medication, his day-to-day life whilst not taking his many HIV meds and Madonna Bingo; referencing song lyrics, her family history, early career facts, her heritage, her early career and a genius recreation of the Cherish video along with dance ribbon recreation! (Superfan Faye loved this bit) .

This mash-up is a brilliant concept, but sadly I don’t think it quite hit the mark when it came to the stage. I wanted this piece to work so much, all the ingredients were there, the concept, two brilliant performers, high-performance levels, and great use of video, however, for me it was lacking something. I laughed along at the right bits, and I felt very emotional whilst watching Brian slip further down the rabbit hole and come undone in front of us. The piece sparked conversation after the show and of course, it is a big ally to the HIV Community, with programme notes and collection buckets available.

My final thoughts are that it is a great concept, but when performed the production was lacking something.

3 Star Review

Review by Faye Stockley

Brian has a dream: pitching himself to the Queen of Pop as the author of her glitzy new musical. But when the undetectable reality of HIV rises up, things change quicker than a Ray of Light.

For nearly forty years, Madonna’s remained on top by constantly reinventing herself. After years living on HIV meds, Brian wants to do the same. But he can’t live to tell a tale of jukebox triumph until he confronts the stigma and side effects of long-term survival.

LIVE TO TELL mashes up queer history and pop artifice into some highly personal Confessions on a Dancefloor. Sure, medicine can suppress a virus, but how do we keep on living? Just like a prayer, this show will take you there.

Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical
By Brian Mullin
Deirdre McLaughlin as Director
Josh Anio Grigg as Digital & Sound Designer
Alex Thomas as Lighting Designer
Steph J Weller for PlayWell Productions as Producer
Brian Mullin as Brian
Dan de la Motte as all other characters
Nadya Ginsburg as the voice of Madonna

Omnibus Theatre
Dates: 7-18 February
Times: 7:30pm (Tue-Sat), 2:30pm (Sat) & 4pm (Sun)

At Camden People’s Theatre from Tuesday 4 – Saturday 15 April, 7pm, £8-£15.

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  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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