On the way into the Watford Palace Theatre you can’t move for publicity for Our House – the Madness Musical. Its a reminder that Songs from a Hotel Bedroom is part of the recent wave of ‘mash-up’ musicals that wrap a story around existing material.
The difference here, though, is the music! No Madness, no proclaimers, certainly no Boy George and not even a Freddie Mercury in site. There isn’t a hint of Elton John and Ben Elton is (thankfully) conspicious in his absence. Instead we get the bitter sweet but ever so rich sound world of Kurt Weil’s American period where he collaborated with some of the greatest American lyricists of the Broadway Golden era (Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash, Alan J Lerner et al).
Like most musicals of this type the story is light and somewhat forced. I never really found myself empathasing with Angelique (a singer) and Dan (a song writer) whose doomed love affair forms the basis of the plot. Summer with Monica this is not – but who cares when the music is this good!
September Song is here (of course) – as is I’m a Stranger here Myself and Speak Low (with its haunting refrain of too soon, too soon). They’re all exquisitely performed by Frances Ruffelle (Angelique), Nigel Richards (Dan) backed by perhaps the real star of the show a seven piece band led by Weil expert James Holmes.
It’s certainly not all there yet. Amir Giles and Tara Pilbrow’s Tango Dancers appeared stiff at times and unsure whether they were a reflection of the action or glorified stage hands. It wasn’t until the final scene when they truly became part of the action. The constant shifting of tabs and voils made the staging overly fussy and I found myself longing for a simpler, more Brechtian approach. The sound design too needs work – its too obviously amplified (especially during the dialogue).
So if your looking for a perfectly formed musical – where the book, words, movement and notes are all intrinsically linked and perfectly structured then you’ll leave disappointed. But as a masterclass in the wonderfully rich, decadant and dark sound world of Kurt Weil Songs from a Hotel Bedroom simply cannot be beaten.
As one audience member rhetorically asked as she left the show – how good was that!