Review by Daz Gale
“I wish my life were like a musical” – words every musical theatre has surely uttered at one time or another. Who hasn’t dreamed of coming and going by bubble, fighting at the barricades (though preferably not dying) or tucking into one of Mrs Lovett’s special pies? Well… maybe not all of them, but still – a bit more spontaneous singing throughout the day would be nice. Fresh from a rave-reviewed run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe where they gathered more stars than a Cabaret gala night, the show has made its way to London for a short run at Wilton’s Music Hall. But would I be saying “Thank Goodness” at its arrival, or would it be a case of Bad Cinderella?
I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical has been around the block a few times with previous seasons in London and multiple years in Edinburgh. I personally caught a previous incarnation at Crazy Coqs 5 years ago, when All that Dazzles was nothing more than an idea in my head and a glint in my eye. Since then, the show has undergone various transformations with 3 new songs added to this years production. Taking the form of a musical revue, it depicts the unseen world of musical theatre revealing all there is to know and the people who love it on both sides of the curtain.
Written by Alexander S. Bermange, I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical packs a whistle-stop tour throughout various elements in the world of theatre in a snappy 70 minutes, never coming up for breath. Among the topics covered are auditioning for a show, performing when hungover, having to act with someone you don’t get on with, standbys and star casting. Having observed all of these aspects, Alexander’s attention to detail is exquisite with a meticulous way to capture these familiar elements with consistently witty and original writing. The writing starts at a ridiculously high standard and never wavers, always impressing with its overwhelming intelligence. Muti-layered in such a way that it becomes accessible for anyone who may not necessarily relate to the subject matter, but filled with extra nuggets and Easter eggs for those that do to create a more substantial payoff.
With just a piano accompanying the cast of four, Alexander is a permanent presence on stage as he plays along, often interacting throughout the songs to essentially become a fifth member of the cast. The music is every bit as stunning as his writing, creating songs that manage to transcend beyond the level of parody and become an instantly loveable musical theatre song in its own right – think of it like musical theatre inception, if you will. One ingenius moment is ahighly detailed and note-perfect number about bad behaviour in audiences and all the issues many of us have dealt with – so impactful was this performance, it made the persistent plastic bag rustler next to me sheepishly put the bag down. Job done, I’d say! With musical arrangements from Alexander, Jerome van den Berghe and Simon Walters, some of these numbers feel destined to become classics in their own right, with highlights including the sensational title number ‘I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical’.
Matthew Parkers direction and choreography brings Alexander’s songs and writing to life in big ways with plenty of nods to iconic moments from famous musicals scattered throughout. It’s the use of clever ways to highlight themes in the song for maximum impact and hilarity that elevates the show massively, with a problematic piano being used to genius effect one such example of this. Another highlight sees an actor reluctant to kiss his co-star with such a vast level of detail underpinning every slight movement and facial expression, it was a complete joy to watch. A simple yet effective design from Sorcha Corcoran adds a bit of sparkle to the stage while Chris McDonnell’s lighting and Tom Lishman’s sound ensures the whole production is consistently performing.
The four cast members that have been assembled for this production are all exquisite in every way. Jennifer Caldwell proves once again why she is musical theatre royalty, wowing the audience with numbers including ‘The diva’s in the house’. Sev Keoshgerian and Rhidian Marc provide refreshing contrasts with their equally impressive vocals, each getting turns to shine throughout, with Sev’s number about performing while ill a highlight of the evening. The cast are completed by Julie Yammanee who doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at situations that are surely all too familiar with a brilliant number featuring her deliberately singing in the wrong way but in doing so proving how immeasurably talented she truly is.
It's when the four performers come together for the group numbers that the stage really comes alive, and one undoubted standout of the evening is the new addition ‘Superfan’. With the four cast members dressed in simple clothing that obviously represents Hamilton, Wicked, Phantom and Les Miserables, they brilliantly recount what it means to obsess over a show with a fair few lines I definitely related to personally.
I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical is a deeply clever and well observed take on all things theatre. Whether you are in the industry or a fan, there is something to be enjoyed here for anyone who has ever loved musical theatre. With wickedly funny writing packed with multiple layers, this could very easily have been made to use musical theatre as the punchline, poking fun at it rather than laughing with it. Instead, this is a revue that has been made with love by devoted fans of musical theatre and it clearly shows. A beautifully realised love-letter to all things musical theatre, this is a must-see for all musical lovers.
I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 9th September. Tickets from www.wiltons.org.uk
Photos by Rod Penn