When Broadway actor Lawrence Woods (played by Ashley Knight) returns to the small village he came from he attends a local amateur dramatic group rehearsal. Soon, he is using his fame to direct a musical version of Chekov’s The Seagull with both amusing and moving consequences.
With a book and lyrics by Winnie Holzman (best known for the book of the hit musical Wicked) you know from the start that the evening is going to provide some light-hearted entertainment and it didn’t disappoint. Amusing one-liners and cleverly written songs provide excellent comedy value throughout the night. The title itself refers to the confusion of putting on a theatre show- is the bird of paradise a flower of the same name? Or is it actually a bird? The comedic title song was a particular highlight as three women sing about their likeness to a bird of paradise (whatever that may be to them) but, as with Wicked, the comedy on the surface had an undercurrent of something more meaningful, exploring the feelings of loneliness these women feel.
As life begins to imitate art, and tempers run high in the rehearsal room, more and more amusing moments arise from the great characterisations and of the contrasting characters thrown together. Stuart Scott provided an outstanding performance as the socially awkward yet highly dedicated Dave, and Elizabeth Chadwick’s aloof and feminist character Hope was also a source of much hilarity.
For me though, the best moments of the play were not the comedic moments but the more subtle and moving moments which cut through the drama of the rehearsal room to the emotional side of life. The finale of act one, Imagining You, is a prime example of this. It may start off as a song from the fictional musical they group are staging, but it quickly becomes something deeper and more personal, exploring the nature of unrequited love.
Perhaps the problem with the play is that good comedy and nice songs aside, it’s hard to like or care for most of the characters. When they are not singing they go back to being fairly one dimensional. Many are too self-absorbed for you to really care what happens to them and the dialogue between musical numbers is unable to add any depth to the characters, such that they just become a little annoying. This means that at the end, when the plot resolves itself, it’s hard to feel any particular emotion.
Ultimately though, aside from the stories of unrequited love between characters and all the cheesiness associated with this, there is one more (even cheesier) plot line- it is clear that the whole show is ultimately a story of the love of theatre. From the fading actor desperate to get back onto Broadway, to the two budding young writers, desperate to get their shows noticed, to the villagers who come together every week to escape their lives by producing art, it is clear that the one true love of these characters appears to be the theatre itself. The final song, Something New, is a direct ode to this, and, as a theatre lover, this is what I could most easily relate to and the one thing the show made me truly care about.
Overall, Birds of Paradise, is a fun evening with some enjoyable songs performed by a strong cast, and any theatre lover will be able to relate to the ultimate message.
Review by Emily Diver
When a group of eccentric amateur actors attempt to stage an absurd new musical version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, they each end up learning more than just their lines. As rehearsals go on, art starts to imitate life as they all learn valuable lessons in love and acceptance.
A joyful and witty comedy told through heartfelt songs and uplifting music, this UK premiere of Birds of Paradise will charm and delight fans of contemporary musical theatre. An early work of Winnie Holzman (writer of the book of Wicked), it showcases the comedic talents of one of the genre’s most influential authors.
Following the successes of their previous five-star shows at The Drayton Arms with The Baker’s Wife and Lucky Stiff, MKEC Productions continue their mission to bring high-quality stagings of lesser-known musicals to the London fringe.
“The score is filled with the kind of yearning diffused with joy that Holzman would bring to later projects like Wicked and My So-Called Life.” Playbill
The first half runs for 60 minutes
The second half runs for 50 minutes
Birds of Paradise
Saturday 06 May 2017 – Saturday 20 May 2017