by Roy Smiles and Adam Meggido.
Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1 6ST to 17 December 2011
Mon – Sat 7.30pm
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Review: William Russell: 16 November.
Un-American activities laid bare.
Set in the 1950s this serious new musical deals with the effect the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunts had on innocent people. Writers Roy Smiles and Adam Meggido have set the action in a run down burlesque theatre where the star comedians, an Abbot and Costello double-act, come up against the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Straight-man Johnny Reno (Jon-Paul Hevey), whose father was a Communist, is under surveillance. The Committee want him to name names. His partner, Rags Ryan (Chris Holland), homosexual and a drinker, is one name they want Johnny to implicate. The pair’s career is in the doldrums – Johnny’s Hollywood break has not materialised.
Round this central situation are some unnecessary sub-plots – the coloured stripper who can pass for White with a Black lover, there only to allow comments on how unfree the Land of the Free was then, and the gold digger Korean War widow stripper is irrelevant. It is also never quite clear what the importance is of the fact that burlesque is in decline and the theatre facing closure.
Yet the cast give their all, with Buster Skeggs delivering a tour de force as the blousywardrobe mistress wise in the ways of the world, beautifully supported by her husband, Linal Haft, as the sleazy owner of the theatre. Chris Holland’s Rags is funny, sad and believable. Their act is terrific; Hope and Crosby come to mind.
Adam Meggido’s score contains some witty tuneful numbers for the two comics and Ms Skeggs, but when his ballads sound like the usual show tunes of today rather than the period.
Johnny has a fine second act soliloquy in which he tells HUAC where to go. Mr Hevey delivers it perfectly and it should end the evening. Instead we get a twee scene followed by a ghastly lachrymose ballad. Both should be scrapped.
The show has apparently gone through many workshops. It needs a few more. But the material is worth working on. Possibly Meggido, who directs, is too close to his work to be able to cut. The cast, however, are uniformly excellent.
Freddie Le Roy:Linal Haft.
Lula Malkah: Buster Skeggs.
Rags Ryan:Chris Holland.
Johnny Reno: Jon-Paul Hevey.
Honey Hogan: Alicia Davies.
Georgia Mitchell: Sinead Mathias.
Amy Delamero: Victoria Serra.
Bill Henry: Alex Bartram.
Saul Sunday: Jeremiah Harris Ward.
Director: Adam Meggido.
Designer/Costume: Martin Thomas.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Anthony Coleridge.
Musical Director: Duncan Walsh-Atkins.
Choreographer: Cressida Carre.