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A week of musicals

 “Oh yes, I do like a musical” I told someone on Saturday. “This is my fourth this week”.

It was, without doubt, a very busy few days even by my standards. I saw Jesus Christ Superstar at The Barbican, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at the Harold Pinter, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and an amateur production of Rent in Cambridge – all within five days. Also tucked into the same period was the mind-blowing Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic which, of course, is not a musical although this astonishingly good production does include some music and singing.

It’s all of two months since I was at a Lloyd Webber and Rice show, so to hear/see two vintage shows in a week was novel.  I was forcibly struck during  JCS that good productions are like fine wine: they mature and improve. I saw this Open Air Theatre revival twice  in its original venue. It was very good then but it’s absolutely top notch now. As theatrical experiences go, it’s astonishly exciting. No stars or Big Names – just fabulous ensemble work.

I was much less impressed by the new Joseph. Jac Yarrow is wonderful in the title role and the children are terrific but oh dear, I could have done without Sheridan Smith’s overworked, chummy bonhomie. It isn’t a pantomime, for goodness sake. Lesson to be learned? Star names don’t necessarily make a good production. The least said about Jason Donovan in this context the better too.

And I didn’t like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin much either – very slow and unclear story telling. And it isn’t, incidentally, a musical. It’s a play which because it’s about a musician includes a fair bit of music. The best bit was the goat (Luisa Gurreiro).

And so to Rent because when you see several shows in a short time you can’t help but compare them. I hadn’t seen this show, based on La Boheme, before and I think it’s poor. It takes a very long time to get going and it feels contrived – substituting Aids as the scourge which kills the young instead of “consumption” (tuberculosis) which, before antibiotics, did the same. The gay message feels bolted on too. And all of that is such a pity because Cambridge Theatre Company (now in its fourth year) attracts and works with some highly talented performers and creatives. And it’s dispiriting to see them working their socks off to make something of a show which isn’t actually worthy of them. I was tempted to open my review with the line “Well, the ice creams were good …” but that seemed a bit mean when accomplished people capable of achieving a near-professional standard have tried so hard.

The overriding message from all this? Don’t rely on big names, pick your show carefully and never work with children and animals, even pretend ones, because they’ll upstage you.



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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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