top of page

Review: Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical (Omnibus Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale

Everybody loves a Jukebox musical, don’t they? (On second thoughts, let’s not go there). Whether it’s Bob Dylan or Britney Spears, having already classic songs adapted into a story is always an interesting mix (though the less said about Viva Forever, the better). It’s this premise that forms the deceptive basis of Live To Tell as a musical based on the iconic songbook of Madonna is pitched. However, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye in a show with the tagline “This is not a show about Madonna… yet” – but did I cherish the show or was I sorry I went?

Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Jukebox Musical sees Brian pitching an idea (or multiple ideas) for a jukebox musical based on Madonna with the hopes of getting it to the Queen of Pop herself. However when the reality of living with HIV rises up, side effects to do with the medication he has opted not to take leads to a world where very differing stories clash as Brian compares his own life and HIV status with the life and career of Madonna.

Sound a bit confusing? That’s because it is. Written by Brian Mullin, who also stars as Brian in the show, it can be a manic and inconsistent 70 minutes that is hard to follow at times. With the dialogue littered with Madonna references, it can be a bit too niche (despite her huge following) and isn’t immediately accessible to those that won’t pick up on everything. If you are a huge Madonna fan (like the person I went with who had a very different experience to this show than I did), you will be living for all the references. To me, the dialogue felt rather clunky and shoehorned in in a way that felt uneven and didn’t always land when it should.

The idea behind Live To Tell is admirable in itself. Brian wanting to reinvent himself inspired by Madonnas constant reinventions should be a truly captivating story. However, the two worlds never seem to combine smoothly enough in a show that feels extremely disjointed. Its biggest problem is the tone which varies drastically – midway through the show we find ourselves encouraged to join in a singalong to ‘Cherish’ before being thrust back into the reality of the situation. While this assumedly is there to represent the everchanging chaos of Brians world, it unfortunately falls flat.

There are moments of brilliance tucked away in Live To Tell, however. When all the noise is taken away and we are left with Brian performing a quiet monologue, the emotion resonates in a way other moments of the show are unable to match, while the shows climax featuring Brian dancing to ‘Ray Of Light’ felt reminiscent of a similar scene in the recent West End play Cruise – though this one wasn’t quite as impactful. Director Deirdre McLaughlin stated she wanted to make an HIV story that wasn’t littered with sadness which is the reason Live To Tell is full of camp humour and joyful pop music. While that is admirable in itself, sadly it doesn’t come across that way and is slightly messy in its execution.

Luckily, the star of Live To Tell manages to elevate the content of the show. Brian Mullin is a truly gifted performer - constantly captivating to watch as he comes to grips with the conflicting feelings of his (and Madonnas stories). A versatile actor, he displays boundless energy and a great knack for timing, particularly at the comedic moments. It is just a shame the writing doesn’t quite match his abilities as a performer.

All other roles in the show are played by Dan de la Motte. Playing Brians agent, doctor, boyfriend and Grindr hookup – sometimes all 4 in the space of a minute, he delivers some great performances, creating distinctly different characters each time who all have their own unique chemistry and relationship to Brian.

For a relatively small space of the fantastic Omnibus Theatre in Clapham , the production value was impressive with a great use of lighting from Alex Thomas, creating very different looking scenes which set the mood. Meanwhile, digital and sound deign from Josh Anio Grigg transformed us from the intimate 110 seated theatre to imagining we were in an arena filled with 20,000 others.

I wanted to love Live To Tell – I really did. After bankrupting myself on Madonna tickets last month, this was right up my alley. However, so many references flew over my head and made me wish the writing as all a bit smoother. There is definitely a good show in there somewhere with a story that has the potential to be all the more satisfying if it is finetuned a little bit.

Definitely one to check out if you are a Madonna superfan - it's fair to say this is the best Madonna related theatre show we can expect until her own jukebox musical is released in a decade. However, non Madonna purists may struggle to get into the groove of the sometimes clunky dialogue. This isn’t so much a bad show but it could be a lot better with the necessary tweaks and I can't help but feel hung up on the notable issues in front of me. As it stands, it's firmly on the borderline.


Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical plays at Omnibus Theatre until 18th February and then heads to Camden People’s Theatre from 4th-15th April.

Photos by Harry Elletson

bottom of page