Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until Saturday, July 16
Reviewed by Peter McGarry
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s loaded with lavish dance routines and slick scene changes. And it all fits neatly on to the Talisman stage.
This minor miracle is down to the sheer ingenuity of director Stephen Duckham, choreographer Sally Jolliffe and set designer John Ellam. They have turned a Broadway musical comedy, little known over here, into a pulsating theatrical experience.
The joy of this show is that it can be enjoyed at various levels – as a jokey exravaganza, as a fitting tribute to the artistry of composers Kander and Ebb, or as an engaging Christie-type whodunnit with traditional plea not to give away the plot. But similarities to Dame Agatha end there because this is a delicious mix of sharp-edged humour and sparky observation of a world on the other side of the stage curtains.
Apart from one glaring weakness, the production exudes quality through the dry, lugubrious camp comedy of Steve Smith as the director of a show girding its Boston loins to break into the big time. He savours the best lines and makes every one a winner while energetic Sally Jolliffe, having shaped some splendid dance routines, injects zany magnetism as the exuberant momma figure of the show within.
Unfortunately, a key role as an investigating policeman torn between his job and his theatrical fixation fails to ignite in Des McCann’s uninspired portrayal which, in the words of the show, does lack lustre.
But the cross-section of experienced players and young newcomers generally works well, giving us fine vocal work from Michael Barker and Amanda Dodd and astute comedy from Ashley Spall and an eye-catching Sophie Higgins who also performs a stunning solo dance.
At face value, the show hits a high note of entertainment. We can also enjoy Kander and Ebb’s cheeky satirical nod towards other, better-known musicals and mainstay characters.
It’s a little over-long, particularly in a final front-of-curtain dualogue, but undeniably this is a brave and delightfully spirited production.