“a wonderfully crafted musical that ultimately surrenders itself to its audience”
“One small step for man” or “one small step for a man”? Whatever Neil Armstrong said, it’s etched in humanity’s collective memory forever more. People prefer the poetic balance of the former even though Armstrong insisted he said the latter – but there is no debate that Apollo 11’s moon landing over fifty years ago was “one giant leap for mankind”.
Chicago housewife Diana (Wendi Peters) was watching the blurred, monochrome images on her television screen on that night in the summer of 1969, whilst also gazing at the same crescent moon hanging in the night sky, framed by the confines of her suburban window. In an epiphanic moment she sees her own life, with her husband Gerard, as humdrum, a series of small steps. She wants her own giant leap and, unable to resist the tidal force of the moment, she wanders out into the night with just her purse and her innocence.
‘The Grey Area’ Theatre Company’s new musical is a charming and intimate journey through the mind of a conflicted woman. She is simultaneously awestruck yet weary; an ingénue who never thought she would live so long. Wendi Peters gives a fine and forceful performance that exposes the crystallised layers of her character. She winds up at the ‘Hotel Constellation’, blows a week’s grocery money on one night and tosses away her diary, all the while being admonished by the voices in her head. Rebecca McKinnis, Jordan Frazier and Phil Adèle represent these voices, as well as switching into the peripheral characters that surround Diana’s life, old and new. McKinnis, as Diana’s sophisticated but morally dubious neighbour deftly morphs into the surly hotel receptionist. Similarly, Adèle, another friend and neighbour in Diana’s previous life becomes a Vietnam veteran clouding his trauma in dope-smoke. Frazier’s hotel maid is the guiding hand that guides Diana through the maze of her new experiences. Far from being supporting characters or the chorus, their studied and varied performances are integral to the shifting tides of the show.
Neil Bartram’s score is, at times, a touch too gentle but like Brian Hill’s book, it isn’t shooting for the moon. There is an underlying reserve that is refined rather than flamboyant. Certain numbers stand out, such as “The Invisible Man” or “Is That Me?” – which oozes with a universal sadness. Peters mines the emotional gravity of the songs until there is very little left.
“You Are Here” is an odyssey and an oddity. It basks a lot of the time in the Sea of Tranquility, although a final twist towards the end of the show does propel it into another orbit, and the motifs and meanings take on a whole new shape. It’s a wonderfully crafted musical that ultimately surrenders itself to its audience. It is a voyage of self-discovery; whether we take optimism and hope with us, or grief and regret, is up to us. Whether a giant leap or a small step, it is a welcome return to live performance as we make our own journeys into the night again to London’s theatreland.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Callum Heinrich
You Are Here
Southwark Playhouse until 12th June
Additionally there are two live stream performances on Saturday 22nd May at 3pm and 7.30pm
“The book and score are entirely forgettable; the rhymes from a Hallmark card and devoid of wit or charm”
In 1996, eight years after the now legendary film, starring Tom Hanks, hit American screens, Big – The Musical premiered on Broadway. Nearly 25 years later, Morgan Young, director, choreographer and chief architect of this Dominion production, has finally realised his dream to bring it to the London stage. It has not aged well. Despite the inordinate amount of money clearly spent on this production, and a few very good performances, the whole show seems distinctly creaky, and slightly tawdry too, like a ride at a cheap fairground on which you slightly fear for your safety.
The story is that of 12 year old Josh Baskin (Jay McGuiness), who, sick of being small, makes a wish at a travelling carnival to be big, and wakes up in the morning with the body of a full-grown man. Fleeing from his terrified mother (Wendi Peters), who fails to recognise him, and with the aid of his best friend Billy (Jobe Hart in last night’s performance), he winds up in New York, where he rises to success at an ailing toy company owned by George MacMillan (Matthew Kelly), getting romantically entangled with Susan (Kimberley Walsh) along the way, before returning to his real age and his home. It’s a fairly slight tale, and the message, such as it is, is sentimental stuff – hang on to your childhood, don’t grow up too fast, and bring the honesty and playfulness of childhood into your adult life. Grown-ups get a pretty bad press in this fable all in all; the apogee of this being the dreadful yuppie dinner party in act two, in which, inexplicably, the supporting men appear to be dressed as versions of Alan Partridge. Sophisticated it isn’t; that quality being distinctly off-message it would appear.
The overall look of the show is disappointing, and the decision to use huge video screens as the centre piece of each scene is a mistake. It distracts from and deadens the action, and also, importantly, takes away from any attempt at intimacy. We are always at a big stadium gig, even in the show’s more tender moments, which serves them badly. The lighting doesn’t help either. All of which underlines the question continually in mind – ‘Why is this a musical?’. It feels like a musical by numbers because that’s exactly what it is. A traditional musical structure has been superimposed on a film narrative. And it doesn’t work. The book and score are entirely forgettable; the rhymes from a Hallmark card and devoid of wit or charm. The only moments to draw widespread audience laughter are in the spoken dialogue. Not a good sign.
The principals are well-cast and work hard. Jay McGuiness perfectly embodies the child-in-man Josh; Kimberley Walsh softens beautifully from power-dressed executive to the girl looking for love she so clearly is, and Matthew Kelly gives a tremendous turn as Macmillan. Wendi Peters is a consummate professional and lends performance oomph to a pretty scant role, but, as with the kids in the cast, she is of the strident MT singing style, which arguably runs counter to emotional depth. Jobe Hart did, however, stand out as Billy last night and most certainly has a musical theatre future. It’s a shame that all this professionalism serves such an underwhelming show.
Finally, it is more than disappointing to see an all-white adult chorus in a West End musical in 2019 (representing the working population of NEW YORK!), as it is to see the only transvestite/transexual character equated with the rotten underbelly of the city. Theatre at this level has no excuse not to do better.