This is the European première of a musical first staged off-Broadway in 2012, and it is the best thing I have seen all year. The auditorium in the small South London theatre was packed, and the audience rose to their feet at the end to give the cast and the band a standing ovation. The tunes are catchy, the lyrics are sharp and witty, the choreography is imaginative and attention-grabbing, while the acting and singing are uniformly excellent. But the subject-matter and the language make it unlikely that the show will achieve a transfer to the West End. Go and see it while it is on just south of the river, a short walk from the Elephant and Castle.
Most of the action takes place takes place in San Francisco in 1963. Three buddies in the United States Marine Corps are off to Vietnam, but they intend to have a good time before they go, so with some fellow-marines they organise a ‘dogfight’. This is a party to which each man invites the most unprepossessing female he can find, and the one who brings the ugliest girl wins a prize. A sordid scenario to underpin lovely music, which also necessitates the unusual requirement that the actresses should not be particularly good-looking. Another unusual feature is that real cigarettes are smoked by the actors. Well, it is meant to be 1963, after all (and 1967 – we also get to see what has become of the protagonist after serving in Vietnam, and of the innocent girl whom he took to that dreadful party). I for one was glad that health and safety had not got in the way of authenticity!
This is not a show to take one’s children to during the school holidays. There is much swearing, while among the props is a toilet seat, used after the party by one of the girls to throw up, and by another to wee into (fortunately, authenticity does not extend to these bodily functions). If there is a message behind the music, it is that buddydom causes men to behave badly, but love conquers all in the end. Corny? Come on, it’s a musical – and a very watchable one.
- By Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
- Directed by Matt Ryan
- Cast includes: Jamie Muscato and Laura Jane Matthewson
- Southwark Playhouse, London
- Until 13th September 2014
- Time: 19.30 (Running time: 2 hrs 10 mins)
- Review by Richard McKee
- 14th August 2014