The Wild Party and City of Angels - Royal Academy of Music
I had the front row to myself one Sunday evening at the Royal Academy of Music (other rows were more densely populated). But still, I found it difficult to get into the spirit of The Wild Party, set in a world that doesn’t really exist anymore. People still party, of course, and there are all sorts of happenings that are probably best kept out of the public domain. But this was the interwar period, and it felt like it was a garish and unstylish version of The Great Gatsby, with very little of interest going on. The alcohol flows freely – which I have nothing against at a party – but with many of the guests clearly drinking in order to get drunk, as opposed to drinking socially – the words that come out of their mouths become increasingly random and fuelled by booze.
It is, at least, believable and convincing. But it is also rather boring to watch this 110-minute show without an interval. It’s just as well that it was presented as a single act as I doubt I would have bothered coming back for the second half. Queenie (Lily Kerhoas at the performance I attended, sharing the role with Roshani Abbey) and Burrs (Connor Jones) are hosting the party, and neither they nor any of their guests are particularly likeable.
It’s also in bad taste, with cocaine bandied about liberally, and then there’s Nadine (Amber Quinn), assaulted by Jackie (Anton Schweizer), though presumably out of fear she insists to Queenie that nothing really went on. At some point there was an orgy, and two producers, one called Gold (Nitai Levi) and the other called Goldberg (Kristian Roche), wake up almost naked, not knowing either where their clothes are or what has happened. To quote Gone With The Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”. But there was some good music from a fifteen-piece orchestra conducted by William Bullivant (as per the show’s programme: all his friends call him ‘Billy’).
Far more enjoyable was what preceded this show, a musical theatre cabaret, set in a contemporary setting, where people have gathered for a very different sort of party, held in honour of someone who used to host annual gatherings for a large group of friends. That lady has now passed on, but the tradition continues, as per her wishes. The range of songs included was quite extraordinary – encompassing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Jonathan Larson’s Rent, and a ‘Party Medley’, a selection of chart music so wide-ranging even the programme merely stated “Music and lyrics by various songwriters” – everything from ‘Baby Got Back’ (whose most famous lyric is “I like big butts and I cannot lie”) to ‘Angels’, made famous by Robbie Williams.
A fortnight later, there was the (un)imaginatively titled ‘Musical Theatre Cabaret 2’, a very short and sweet show, subtitled ‘Every Movie’s A Circus’. The premise is that this is a busy film set, with a stressed-out director always and forever frustrated that things aren’t being done or actors can’t be found, and so on. Most of the cast and crew spend so much time with each other that they find love (it naturally follows that some of them will already have been in relationships before starting work on this particular motion picture, but let’s not get too over-analytical in a show that is really about showcasing a broad range of musical styles) – cue ‘Unchained Melody’ (from Ghost The Musical).
The opening number was rather inspired, involving the 20th Century Fox signature tune performed through vocal harmony, and an amusing and poignant medley of Walt Disney Company tunes accompanied a movie reel of key moments, both academic and social, in the life of the Academy’s musical theatre students over the past year, closed the show. I’m sure that was particularly touching for the parents and other family members of graduating students to witness.
I hadn’t seen a performance of ‘City of Angels’ before, so it was good to catch it at the Academy. I may have heard a tune or two as part of the ‘Night of 1000 Voices’ events that used to take place at the Royal Albert Hall, but they were not all that memorable performed as standalone songs in a concert setting, out of context. A three hour show (there was an interval), it was refreshing to note that if anything didn’t make sense, it would be pointed out within the show that the narrative had gone awry (and so it wasn’t just me not being able to make neither head nor tail about a plot point). It was all very sublime. The cast could have taken slightly better care of props – the occasional widget got dropped or kicked – but that is, in all honesty, the only (and very negligible) criticism I have of this student production.
The video projections (Gillian Tan) worked well, guiding the audience to where scenes were set or otherwise providing a suitable backdrop. The lighting (Rob Halliday) was highly commendable, and the dual plot was easy enough to follow. In a cast with no weak links it is difficult to pick out stand-out performances, though I thought George Whitty’s Stone had a lovely singing voice. The character has far more spoken dialogue than sung lyrics, while Christopher Hobbs’ Stine (Stone being a private investigator character in Stine’s novel City of Angels – hence a story within the story) belts out a Very Big Note at the end of both acts that Broadway and West End musical theatre audiences just adore.
Although set in the late 1940s, some things in the entertainment industry do not change – there are motion pictures that are adaptations of books even now, for instance. When Stine’s script is changed significantly behind his back by Donna (Eliza Waters at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Martine Rishaug Hellman), secretary to film director and producer Buddy Fidler (an engaging Robert Madge at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Joe Thompson-Oubari), it brought to mind a recent controversy regarding the creative input behind Tree, a play that recently premiered at the Manchester International Festival. Its writers, Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin, were unceremoniously removed at some point from the project (so the story goes) and are now completely uncredited, with the play as it stands listed on the Young Vic’s website as having been “created by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah”.
The other noticeable thing here is the American approach to guns – at least one appears onstage every few minutes, or at least it certainly felt that way. Refuse to do something? I shall point a gun at you. You’re in my room even though you’re the person I’m looking for and it suits me to have you in my room because I want to talk to you? I shall point a gun at you. Dare to point a gun at me? I shall point a gun back at you. It seemed the universal method to resolve, or try to resolve, almost anything. Thank goodness, then, for Stine and his wife Gabby (Amy Parker at this performance, the role being shared with Paige Peddie) who stand out as being unarmed, trying to sort out marital problems through conversation! Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable show, and there is no doubt in my mind that members of this student company will be treading the boards professionally sooner rather than later.
Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith