Vanara – The Legend. Book by Michael Conley, Lyrics by Andrew Whelan, Music by Gianluca Cucchiara. Hackney Empire, Mare Street, London to 31 October 2021. 2**. William Russell.

In spite of two excellent leads singing their hearts out to the audience from the footlights, and a remarkably large cast giving it their considerable all this dreary musical does make one wonder what on earth those who created it were thinking about. This is no fringe frolic on a shoe string but a lavish affair – the set uses a couple of revolves, the costumes are elaborate and the amount of body paint employed is quite amazing.
The book is inevitably the problem with musicals but usually the music carries the day. Here the book is trite and trivial, back of a fag packet stuff, and the music – the less said about that the better really. The cast pretend there are songs to sing which is about the most one can say other than this is a show to marvel at how truly awful it is.
Well not quite. Somewhere in a forest somewhere but probably a rain forest in the Americas live two tribes – the Kogallisk has fire, the Pana has not. They are enemies. But Ayla from the fire tribe and Mohr from the other one fall in love, she gives him the secret of fire, there is war, people get killed – this is Romeo and Juliet country – but the old wise old woman The Oroznah, who runs around prophesying that the dark night is about to fall, eventually tells what she should have told them at the beginning – they are not rival tribes but members of the same tribe who had fallen out. Give or take a funeral or two, all ends happily every after with the forest in flames. It has been a long night.
However as the lovers Emily Bautista and Jacob Fowler sing beautifully and command the eye, while Johnnie Fiori as the mystic old lady is a joyous presence, and Kayleigh McKnight as Mohr’s best friend – she surrenders him with grace to Ayla – can also deliver a song with style. But so does everyone else and at least the arias have been dished out generously so that everyone gets their chance to stand down stage and warble to the Gods. The pity is that what they get to warble is so awful. There are times one really does long for a score by the Lord.

The Oroznah: Johnnie Fiori.
Tahl: Glenn Carter.
Ayla: Emily Bautista.
Crohm: Cavin Campbell.
Morh: Jacob Fowler.
Tonah: Carole Stennett.
Utza: Samantha Mercer.
Sindah: Kayleigh McKnight.
Caladae: Shem Omari James.
Rooh: Joaquin Pedro Valdes.
Lordy: Chris George.
Ensemble: Yuki Abe, Jemima Brown, Christ George, Olivia Jones, Ella Martine, Hicaro Nicolai, Prem Rai, Ebby Sama.

Director & Choreographer: Eleecha Drennan.
Director & Dramaturg: Adam Lenson.
Musical Directir: Tamara Saringer.
Set & Costume Design: Libby Todd.
Lighting Designer: Sam Waddington.
Sound Designer: Olly Steel.

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