I have seldom found such difficulty with a review as with Boiling Frog, the inaugural production of Humruddy Productions. The enthusiasm with which Keith Humphrey, writer and composer of the show, was greeted by members of the audience after the standing ovations was clearly genuine, people around me talked of an awesome achievement, but, though I was impressed by the commitment shown by the cast and the professionalism of the production, the show made much less impact on me.
So is it me? Partly, no doubt – I find it hard to relate to over-dramatic or confessional post-Lloyd Webber songs of which there are many, mostly effective enough, but not memorable. But I think the main cause of the difference of opinion is that there is tremendous community involvement in Boiling Frog, the writer is a first-time playwright, a middle-aged businessman, and so there is, rightly, great personal pride (which as an outsider I cannot share) in what Keith Humphrey and the group have achieved. Whether the harsh world of professional theatre will be so welcoming remains to be seen.
There are plenty of dramatic moments in Boiling Frog, but the basic story is pretty slight, not necessarily a bad thing for a musical. Lewis Angel splits from his wife and their three children are very upset. Marie, his wife, has a boyfriend, Lewis spends too long clubbing with his mates, but finds love with Laura, then he falls into a diabetic coma. The second half, when he has to re-evaluate his life, has echoes of All that Jazz, the Bob Fosse movie in which he looks back on his career while hovering between life and death.
Just like Bob Fosse, who had an angel of death, Lewis is challenged and guided by a devilish figure – Twelve by name. Sadly another blindspot of mine is melodramatic devils with fixed smiles and menacing laughs, but Christian Lunn carries it off with aplomb, fielding a fine voice of impressive range, hinting at a neat sense of humour and earning a round of applause on virtually every exit. In a cast of young professionals and local amateurs Ed Leigh is nicely self-effacing as Lewis, Michelle Beckett (Marie) and Alex Cawthray (Laura) are well differentiated as wife and lover, Tess Kendrick-Brown does a highly successful comic turn as Gilly and Charlotte Atkinson, Jake Abbott and Faye Weerasinghe are terrific as Lewis and Marie’s children.
The other half of Humruddy, Phill Ruddy, directs an impressively disciplined show in Alexander Swarbrick’s flexible designs. The evening’s success owes much to music arranger Matthew Sharrock. There are good songs in the show (Lewis and Laura’s love duet, “Catch me when I Fall”, or the crazy dance number, “What is Real Anyway”), but his ingenious arrangements lift the more mundane numbers, even if the volume of the backing track is sometimes excessive.