Although great stories reward repeated retelling and inspire reinvention, many of us will roll our eyes on a regular basis when we learn yet another familiar film property is being resuscitated on the stage as a musical. It can feel like a lazy recourse to familiar branding, and leaves us wondering where the new ideas are supposed to flourish?
Indecent Proposal is most famous as the 1993 film starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, but it originated as a novel by Jack Engelhard published in 1988. The story concerns a working class couple marking time in dead-end jobs at a casino while they wait for the big breaks that will bring their dreams alive: Jonny (Norman Bowman) as a singer/songwriter, Rebecca (Lizzy Connolly) as a champion for women’s rights. Into their lives drops Larry (Ako Mitchell) a wealthy entrepreneur who offers a million dollars in exchange for one night with Rebecca.
Think what difference that sum could make to their lives… and it’s only sex, after all… The premise is a great moral conundrum – the sort of puzzler every audience member will be mulling over with their companion, debating the rights and wrongs and possible consequences of either a “yes” or a “no” answer to Larry’s proposal. I was with a friend who thought 10 million would be a better offer, but I expect he was thinking from a 2021 head, whereas the play is definitely set in the age of cassette tapes and landline telephones.
Much of the action takes place in the casino bar where Jonny sings as a guest of matriarch Annie (Jacqueline Dankworth), supported by a live five-piece band. The musicians are excellent, as are the singers, and this workplace environment helps to neuter the common complaint about musicals being plays in which suddenly the action stops to accommodate a song. It helps that the songs themselves are great, easily setting themselves above the blandness of many contemporary musicals. I would pay to see these performers just doing the soundtrack, without the accompanying play.
Happily, Michael Conley‘s script is also worthy of praise. It moves Jonny, Rebecca and Larry around the central dilemma in ways that allow us to see every side of the argument. The premise seductively invites us to rush to judgement, but the way Conley’s adaptation plays out the action means we get a convincing slice of everyone’s perspective. It’s a really nuanced treatment of a complex situation, and you feel yourself switching loyalties on a regular basis; quite an accomplishment.
My one quibble is that the sightlines in this thrust configuration need mixing up. I spent most of the show staring at the back of Rebecca’s head, making it a bit difficult to fully engage with her character, and I’m sure the audience on the other side were similarly distanced from Jonny. But on the question of whether this old film/novel merited a musical theatre rendition, the answer’s a definite yes.
Book/lyrics by: Michael Conley
Music by: Dylan Schlosberg
Directed by: Charlotte Westenra
Produced by: Neil Marcus for 10 to 4 Productions
Indecent Proposal plays at Southwark Playhouse until 27 November. Further information and booking via the below link.