Ever wonder where writers get their ideas from? I have to admit I often do. Often, after seeing a really good film, I wish I could write like that. Dream up characters, bringing them to life, putting them into some scenario and have that play out to a, hopefully, logical conclusion. Alas, my writing skills aren’t up to that so, I will have to think of another method to get that Oscar for Best Screenplay. I’m not the only person to think like this as you will find out if you take a trip to The Other Palace in Victoria where new musical Reputation is receiving it’s premiere.
1935 and the USA is starting to emerge from the Great Depression. Well-dressed but obviously dodgy Freddy Larceny (Jeremy Secomb) has a story to tell. For a while, Freddy had built up a reputation as a Hollywood screenwriter coming up with marvellous stories that were eagerly picked up by Louis B, Sam, The Warners, etc and turned into hit movies. What the moguls didn’t know was that Freddy was getting “his ideas” by having gullible writers send their stories to him via an advert in Variety. Over in Paris, Michelle Grant (Maddy Banks) is doing what all well-bred young ladies of the time did. Attending a language and department college to learn those skills that are essential to fulfilling her destiny of becoming a first-rate wife to a prosperous man. Michelle isn’t entirely satisfied with the way her life is planned and, rather than attending classes, has been concentrating on writing a novel. At last it is finished and she is ready for the world to see it. Egged on by her friends Angela, Jane and Monica (Ashleigh Cavanagh, Charlie Dennis and Eleanor Tollan) and especially her BBF Mary (Lauren Ingram) Michelle responds to an advert in variety and sends her novel – together with $20 – to be considered for publication. Jump forward a year and a new movie, written by one Freddy Larceny, is announced. To Michelle’s consternation, the story bears more than a passing resemblance to her own novel. Doing what any girl would do in these circumstances, Michelle phones her father who brings in hot young lawyer Archie Bright (Ed Wade) to assist his daughter. Whilst Freddy goes all out to defend his reputation, Archie opts to have the case taken to arbitration in front of Judge Stevens (Cory Peterson). With everything to play for, the case opens but who will win and to whom will French Actress and chanteuse Jacqueline (Priscille Grace) be presenting the award for Best New Screenplay to at the next Oscars?
One of the interesting things about Reputation is that scams still go on tempting would-be authors to part with money to get their books published. In fact, if you do an internet search, there is quite a market out there for people willing to take money off the gullible. This depressing fact means that there is likely to be more than a grain of truth in the central story of Reputation and, whilst sad, that does mean this musical feels slightly more believable than many others. Having said that, Alick Glass and Suzanne Glass who wrote the book, lyrics and composed have put together a musical that, for people like me that love the genre, has a very familiar feel to it. With a running time of around 2 hours, including interval and twenty-five songs, there is a lot to pack in to Reputation. For me, the show felt a bit long. One of my criteria for songs in a show is that they either provide additional definition to a character or they are useful in moving the narrative on. I have to admit that I felt some of the smaller numbers in the first act didn’t really do either of these things and were possibly superfluous to requirements. Not to say there weren’t some real hum-dingers there. “What We Like about Paris” for example and “Paranoia” were both excellent and really stood out.
The cast were great, with both Jeremy Secomb and Maddy Banks really shining in their roles as Freddy and Michelle respectively. Special mention to the ‘girls’ of the school who as well as their individual roles doubled up as a highly flexible and talented chorus. I’m also going to give a mention to Charlie Dennis during the post office scene. I’m not sure how, but Dennis managed to make her non-talking phone conversation look so natural and real it was easy to forget she wasn’t actually on the phone, A small point but an absolutely first class piece of acting.
Given the space available Director Warren Wills and Choreographer Tamsyn Salter – who totally stole the opening to the second act – made fantastic use of the space, moving the cast around, including some pretty complex dancing with deftness and skill that meant nobody walked into anyone else and everyone ended up in the right place at the right time. I also really liked the fact that, thanks to some very powerful voices on stage, the band – Musical Director/Pianist Warren Mills and Double Bassist Jordan Brown – didn’t drown out the singing, which often happens when performers don’t wear microphones. I did have a slight concern over the costumes which felt more 1950s than 30s to me and, whilst I could be wrong, I don’t believe judges in arbitration wear robes and American judges never wear bands.
All told, Reputation is a good fun musical that, whilst being brand spanking new, feels very familiar. Whilst the story started out quite radical, I was slightly disappointed by the ending which felt a little too easy to my mind. However, the production was very well put together and there was nothing to fault in the performances or commitment from the cast, who really seemed to have a lovely “esprit de corps” that came over well.
Review by Terry Eastham
Hollywood in the late 1930’s: a time when the major studios are struggling to feed the insatiable worldwide demand for new talkies. Freddy Larceny is a con artist running a scam to pass-off the work of new writers as his own. He strikes gold when Michelle Grant, an aspiring novelist and student at a Paris language and deportment college, spots his advertisement in the ‘Variety’ movie trade newspaper. Larceny plagiarises her script for a film – credited to him as writer – that then goes on to receive an Oscar nomination.
‘Reputation’, a compelling story of plagiarism and the female struggle for equality, follows Michelle’s fight for recognition and the recovery of her stolen work, told through 25 original songs and romantic ballads written in the flamboyant style of the best-loved lyricists of the mid 1900’s.
Jeremy Secombe (Sweeney in the West End Pie Shop ‘Sweeney Todd’ and Javert in ‘Les Miserables’, 2015-2017), Maddy Banks (‘The Band’ West End and UK tour) and Ed Wade (currently in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in the West End) head the cast and are joined by Cory Peterson, Lauren Ingram, Charlie Dennis, Ashleigh Cavanagh and Eleanor Tollan.
Book, Lyrics and Music: Alick Glass
Director and Musical Director: Warren Wills
Choreographer Tamsyn Salter
Lighting Nick Richings
Music Producer Jordan Brown
Casting: Anne Vosser
Book, Lyrics and Music
by Alick Glass
The Other Palace
12 Palace Street
London, SW1E 5JA
Box Office: 0207 087 7900