This new original production from local company Music Is Life is written and composed by Dan Lashbrook, and aims, it says, “to look at the edgier, gritty side of musical theatre.” And sure enough, it features, among other things, gang violence, misogynistic abuse, drugs, prostitution, sexual assault, and murder. It tells the story of would–be singing star Donnie, and her troubled road in search of success and fame, which involves her with, among others, a sleazy, evil-tempered and pervy record producer; a Boy George lookalike who seems to want to help her career but turns out to be a violent andhomicidal high-class pimp; some other nasty gangsters; and a homeless busker with a heart of gold, who only appears now and then, perhaps to justify the title of the show. If this all sounds a bit of a jumble, it sort of is. The plot is improbable, even for a musical, and it is sometimes hard to work out what is supposed to be going on, and in some cases never becomes clear. Donnie’s loving brother Zac, for instance, suddenly and unexplainedly becomes some sort of financial wizard; Donnie herself, who has previously taken a fairly highmoral tone, unexpectedly becomes a seemingly adeptsex worker in a brothel, leading at one point to a scene with a lonely punter which is somehow meant to be in some way loving. Why?
Musically, it sounds good, and there are some rousing numbers, particularly the ones with three-piece girly backing vocals. The eighteen-strong cast is indeed strong; there is no shortage of acting and singing skill among the performers. The problem, really, is with the script. When it’s trying to be gritty, it’s overdone and a tad melodramatic; and at other times it tends to the mawkishly sentimental. The cast can all sing and act very ably; the tunes aren’t at all bad, but oh, the daftness of the unlikely plot lines, the somewhat cliché’dsentimental, homiletic lyrics – and the highly–contrived happy ending hardly counts as ‘gritty’. Perhaps the company is more suited to the lighter side of musicals. All in all this is a brave attempt, and full marks for that; but it ain’t no West Side Story.
John Christopher Wood