Review by: ★★★★ Caroline Cronin
“Full of passion, drama, sensitivity, humour – and a whole lotta sass.“
Not since the Landor production in 2013 has the UK seen a professional production of [Title of Show], the self-referential musical by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell about two struggling writers in New York who decided to write an original musical for the New York Musical Theatre Festival. But joyfully, Lambert Jackson Productions has bought it back to the British masses and assembled a superb cast directed by Josh Seymour.
Filmed and edited at the Coliseum’s Chorus Rehearsal room with an ensemble cast of four (plus Larry…), this minimalist, socially distanced performance doesn’t feel wanting. As per the show’s credo, “Why can’t four chairs and a piano make a Broadway show?”. And why not indeed.
Naming their two lead characters after themselves is just the tipping point of the level of meta that Bowen and Bell achieve here. Packed with knowing references to the creative process, [Title of Show] is a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the art of the musical.
As Jeff and Hunter recruit their pals Susan and Heidi to help them with their ambitious project, Jeff asks Heidi how her Mamma Mia! audition went, and Heidi responds causally “Oh, it was just for a replacement/understudy/ensemble/off-stage/singer/dance captain/assistant stage manager track…”. When you know, you know.
There’s a lot of shade thrown at specific musical genres and musicals themselves, but it feels affectionate rather than cruel. Even Chess doesn’t escape – although I suspect that its main fault was being unfortunate enough to rhyme with “mess”.
Tyrone Huntley as Hunter is a Type A personality, obsessed with detail and plagued with self-doubt. His writing partner Jeff – played to perfection by Marc Elliot – is similarly insecure…except when he’s taking his top off.
Lucie Jones is the charmingly irritating Heidi, a wannabe Broadway starlet with an impressive belt and penchant for riffing. She’s the perfect antidote to Jenna Russell’s sassy Susan – imagine a downtown Moira Rose, but with more swearing. And if you can find anything funnier than her interpretation of “the broken doll” pose during a photoshoot, I will give you a trillion pounds.
The score is a blend of up-tempo, laugh-out-loud earworms. “Die Vampire Die” is a highlight, and Jones belts out a stonking rendition of “A Way back to Then”, but for some reason the intentionally repetitive “Filling out the Form” is the one I am still humming.
The limitations of a show with a book so deeply rooted in parody is that its appeal will always resonate with quite a niche audience. Fringe theatre would be the perfect vehicle for this, and I’d have loved to have seen it in the Turbine Theatre or Southwark Playhouse. But, alas, until normality resumes, this online production was a welcome reminder of why I adore musicals and the people that create them. Full of passion, drama, sensitivity, humour – and a whole lotta sass.