So here’s the set up; June (Laura Ellis) is an innocent girl who can’t pay the rent and is being threatened by evil landlord Jitter (Daniel Saunders); but will handsome leading man Billy (Joseph Dickens) come to the rescue? It’s a familiar storyline found in many musicals that hardly bother the grey cells, but of course that’s not the intention. Whilst there are exceptions, the majority of musical plots only exist as a convenient hook for some great songs. The trick here is to weave the same theme through five set pieces each sending up a legendary songwriter. At least that’s the idea and it doesn’t always work, but the enthusiasm of an excellent cast carry it through any rough patches.
Each segment is preceded by a short clip of songs from shows created by the writer in question. First up, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, with a piece called Corn, a thinly veiled pot-shot at Oklahoma!. The sickly sweet boy-meets-girl scenario is well observed and wickedly sent up. However, A Little Complex isn’t quite as effective where the work of Stephen Sondheim is dissected. The problem here is the variety of subject matter covered by Sondheim’s work and lack of symmetry between individual pieces. For example, Westside Story, Sweeney Todd and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum are totally disparate in construction. So a mash-up with the ‘rent-landlord’ storyline turns into something of a mess. Dear Abby, a study of Gerry Herman shows provides a more malleable template as Hello Dolly and La Cage Aux Folles are ripped apart. Abby (Penny Rodie) plays a familiar character that can’t sing but wins manic applause from the audience regardless.
Aspects of Junita is the obligatory nod to Andrew Lloyd Webber, but seems to fall into the same trap as the Sondheim piece. ALB’s best shows are very different and suffer when a common thread is sought. It certainly makes its point; that ALB is obviously fond of opera and certain classical composers. But it jumps around far too much to achieve the desired effect. The final piece is Speakeasy featuring the work of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Again this is much better as they feature two conceptually similar shows in Cabaret and Chicago.
This show works because of an excellent cast which also includes the wonderfully versatile Lucy Spreckley and Alex Yelland. They work miracles with a sole piano accompaniment and a patchy concept. The songs are bright, but to take credit for them is stretching the point as they borrow so heavily from the writers they are aping. If this was a game of football you could say they won 3-2. However, the faults in this show cannot be blamed on the producers but the creators who haven’t quite thought it through. Top marks to Sedos who have produced a West End show on a shoestring budget.
Music by: Eric Rockwell
Lyrics by: Joanne Bogart
Based on the book by: Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart
Directed by: Emma J Leaver
Produced by: Clare Harding
Musical Direction by: Natalie Pound
Choreography by: Deborah Lean
Booking Link: https://sedos.co.uk/secure/boxoffice/production.php
Booking Until: 29 February 2020