Roxie Hart, Don Draper, Agent Cooper and Jessica Rabbit walk into a bar. That’s the general feel of the musical whodunit, The Stripper, currently on at the St James Theatre (soon to be renamed The Other Palace). The Stripper is the brainchild of Rocky Horror Picture Show creators Richard O’Brein and Richard Hartley and much like its transgender space oddysey global mega-hit predecessor it’s good fun, if not somewhat flawed. The cast of only 5 actors are strong and play a multitude of different roles with killer vocals, but I found they were let down by the somewhat misogynistic and dated plot. Don’t get me wrong, this musical is a riot but there’s only so many tit, ejaculation and hard on gags I can cope with before I switch off and start counting tassles.
Based on Carter Brown’s 1961 book, The Stripper was first produced in Sydney back in 1982 and to be honest I’m not sure a musical about women being sex objects and the horny men who lust after them is right for a 2016 audience. I said the same thing with the recent revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie where I just wanted the plot to be revised and catapulted into present day where sisters are doing it for themselves. That aside, at its heart The Stripper is a great whodunit. I don’t want to go too much of the plot away, but a young stripper plummets to her death (cue the camp opening number Did She Fall? Was She Pushed?) and there’s a sexually frustrated lieutenant who has to go through all the seedy characters of Pine City trying to work out whodunit. It’s a classic formula that’s been done to death (ha!), but The Stripper will have you guessing till the very last writhe of the pole.
For me the true hero of this show is the incredible cast. The stripper, Deadpan Dolores (oh yes!), is played by the simply ravishing Gloria Onitiri, whose voice is like an overflowing chocolate fountain. Onitri’s vocals across the whole show are spine-tinglingly good and I found her sultry and dazzling. Anyone who can sing like that and strip in front of Sir Ian McKellen (yes he was in the audience!) gets my vote. Sebastian Torika played the more annoying lead of lieutenant Al Wheeler. I say annoying only because Wheeler is also the narrator, so there are a lot of spotlight monologues which I’m not a fan of. Torika’s characterization is on point and his vocals are also velvety smooth. His duet with Onitri for Begging The Question was a definite show highlight. The supporting cast also flow around the stage brilliantly. Mark Pickering as the seedy Rovak yet camp florist Harvey Stern is a delight and his version of I Confess (don’t worry it wasn’t him!) is wonderful. Equally, the dashing and easy-on-the-eye Michael Steedon as hard-done-by Jacob Arkwright is brilliant. Steedon sings the rich and heartfelt belter Cry On with such force I must admit I nearly cried. It was Hannah Grover as ditzy Annabelle, then latino chica Sherry Mendez and terrifying Sarah Arkwright that had me enthralled throughout both acts. Grover’s comic timing and wig collection are just hysterical.
This show deserves a bigger space to play with as the studio, for both audience and cast, is too crammed. However I felt director Benji Sperring used what limited space he had and wove his strong cast well. The on stage live band, under the watchful eye of musical director Alex Beetschen, were wonderful and really helped add to that late night, sultry and seductive feel.
The Stripper may not be for everyone, but it’s a good un-PC laugh and in times like these that’s all you need.
Lyrics: Richard O’Brien
Music: Richard Hartley
Director: Benji Sperring
Producers: Niall Bailey and Chris Wheeler
Musical Director & Arranger: Alex Beetschen
Box Office: 0844 264 2140
Booking Until: 13 August 2016
Booking Information: https://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/studio/the-stripper/