Musical of the Year, the show currently playing at The Lost Theatre on Wandsworth Road, is a rough re-telling of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame with the ‘schtick’ being that each scene of the show uses a popular musical-theatre idiom from 1955 (with Lerner and Lowe) to more or less the present day, referencing thirty plus hit shows along the way.
Holding the disparate pieces together as a framing device is the story of a composer, Rudy, and his wife, Lizzie. Rudy keeps re-writing the ‘Hunchback’ story because, essentially, he can’t commit. If the authors Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe and Owain Rose don’t realise this, they should. And that’s the problem. This is a show which doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s two shows, and two different styles of show trying to co-exist on the stage at once, and both suffer as a result.
The ‘Hunchback’ show is a revue. It’s a series of often brilliantly realised and beautifully performed musical sketches which each have the same joke; the joke being ‘Isn’t it funny. Look, we’re doing The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the style of Jerry Herman (or Kander and Ebb, or Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc.)’.
If you’re the sort of person who finds the American style of humorous song-writing you get in ‘Forbidden Broadway’ funny (here’s the joke, now we’re going to stretch it out for the next three and a half minutes) you’ll probably love the writing here. I ‘sort of’ do, in small doses, but there’s a law of diminishing returns. As a result the characters in the ‘Hunchback’ bit of the show, which are pretty one-dimensional to begin with, all get a bit, well, boring.
After a while you long for something with emotional content.
The two characters (plus a couple of critics) in the framing device should be where you get it, however, they’re very ‘nice’, and although in act two there are some genuinely moving moments – especially when the characters in ‘Hunchback’ interact with the composer, Rudy – by then it’s far too late.
We need to know up front WHY Rudy NEEDS to write this musical of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (which feels like a completely random choice of subject by him), WHY he has such trouble committing to any one particular style, and what’s stopping him from finishing the damn thing which he seems to be working on for over sixty years, and to the exclusion of everything and everybody around him. We’re never told, so don’t invest in him as a character which is a shame, as that leaves the audience without an emotional anchor to give the piece any beef.
I also think it’s a BIG mistake to have the characters in the framing device being non-singing roles. The emotional story SHOULD be with Rudy and his wife, and in musicals people sing, otherwise you don’t have a musical…
I’ve hardly any words left for the cast, but there are some great ‘turns’ from Victoria Waddington giving her Mama Rose in Act One, Andrew Truluck as Esmeralda in Act Two, and from Robbie Smith as Rudy.
However, the writers have still got a lot of work to do. Beef up the framing device to become the story. Hack back at the acres of one-joke padding, and the very talented cast would have something much more worth expending upwards of two hours worth of energy on.