mon 27/06/2022

But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical, Turbine Theatre review - two cheers for feelgood show | reviews, news & interviews

But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical, Turbine Theatre review - two cheers for feelgood show

But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical, Turbine Theatre review - two cheers for feelgood show

Wave your pom poms for a show with its heart in the right place

Side show: Evie Rose Lane and Alice Croft as Graham and MeganMark Senior

We open on “Seventeen is Swell”, the antithesis of Janis Ian’s 70s angsty anthem, “At Seventeen”. Megan is living it large as the cheerleader’s leader with her football captain boyfriend, two loving if strict parents and a golden future of all-American domestic bliss ahead. In short, she has all her pom poms in a row.

Well, except she doesn’t really enjoy the more intimate moments with the dim jock, Jared; she has pin-ups of Eva Herzigová where Johnny Depp should be; and she’s, horror upon horrors, a vegetarian! In the kind of Midwest town where you might expect Louis Theroux to turn up to investigate their quaint and vicious ways, that’s evidence enough to pack Megan off to the True Directions program so as to undergo the ordeal of conversion therapy.

Joining the growing list of musicals based on movies (in this case, Jamie Babbit’s 1999 sleeper cult classic of the same title), But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical would be very dark in the hands of Stephen Sondheim, but, in keeping with the feelgood vibe of its source material, Bill Augustin and Andrew Abrams plug into an ethos of affirmation. You have to read the programme to catch just how dangerous the still legal quack therapy is, so this stuff isn’t just serious, it’s relevant. That said, if The Greatest Showman pointed the way past anxiety and buried angst in musicals for the time being at least, we all need a bit of joy right now.

The ensemble cast (pictured above) are pushed hard by director Tania Azevedo and rise to the challenge of double-casting and multiple costume and make-up changes with real enthusiasm - hats off to Jodie Steele in particular, who may have had a jacket or two handed to her on stage, but incorporated the moves into character with some beautifully timed, if probably rehearsed, ad libs. 

Steele’s two roles - Megan’s BFF Kimberley who goes on her own journey, and Hilary, an utterly charming Australian whose high level of commitment to True Direction’s five step programme is matched only by its low level of success - underline a key problem: the show's support characters are far more interesting than the two leads. 

Oliver Brooks and Jodie Jacobs have enormous fun as Larry and Lloyd, the older guys who provide a safe haven for those who can escape the conversion therapy camp, Tiffany Graves gets to be the evil stepmother with a cleaning obsession (“Perfect Little World”) as a displacement activity and Edward Chitticks and Lemuel Knights as the very uncloseted Rock and ex-gay Mike get the biggest laugh of the evening.

Alice Croft and Evie Rose Lane deliver as Megan and her paramour Graham (a girl's name, apparently), singing well and delivering a fine closing number in “Cheer”, but both parts are underwritten. They may well be (pun unintended) straight roles amongst comic caricatures, but it’s not clear why they fall in love and there isn’t much chemistry discernible between them. We get that one girl is unsure of her sexuality and the other is certain and that fit works for them, but it’s a little too glib and quick in a musical that already runs two and a half hours. 

The songs are peppy and poppy, but the score lacks the 11 o’clock number that would lift a second half that flags (because we’ve all known how things will turn out for an hour or so at least), and Josh Sood’s band never quite overcomes the unsympathetic acoustics of the Turbine Theatre’s hard-surfaced space. 

But I’m a Cheerleader: The Musical, the theatrical roots of which stretch back to 2005, is the first fully mounted production to come out of MT Fest’s workshopping process and, with its heart in the right place, will surely find bigger audiences than can be accommodated here. Now they just need to find a big second-half number and make Megan and Graham fully compelling, and I'll be leading my own cheers at the curtain.   



With its heart in the right place, the show will find bigger audiences than can be accommodated in this venue


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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