Another world premiere at Leicester Curve, Water Babies makes a splash with an impressive score and stellar West End cast. Based on the novel by Charles Kinglsey, Water Babies is an underwater adventure that shows some real potential.
Naturally set underwater, the story follows Tom (Thomas Milner) on an adventure through the ocean in the hope he can make it back to the surface to be reunited with his new love Ellie (Lauren Samuels). Ultimately he must reach the Water Babies who can help him in his quest but, of course, his quest isn't as simple as it could be as the somewhat predictable story is unravelled.
The relationship between Tom and Ellie is rushed, which ultimately makes believing Tom's rush to get back to land tricky to believe. They meet and fall in love within two minutes. Milner as the naive Tom and Samuels' imaginative Ellie are ideally cast in their respective roles.
Louise Dearman channels her inner Glinda as Mrs D, a magical fairy, whose costumes range from Victorian washerwoman to the most elaborate graduation gown. Although, of course, Dearman has some incredible moments on stage during her numbers "Waiting For You" and "The End", her character is difficult to relate to as there is no real explanation of who exactly she is or why she lives under the sea.
The sinister character of Eel (Tom Lister) lends an element of pantomime as the token baddie; complete with boos-a-plenty during curtain call. His numbers "Friends In High Places" and "Turn Eel On" are highlights, and Lister makes the dark thoughts of this character come alive.
Tom Davey, Samuel Holmes and Andy Gray make up comedy trio Claude the swordfish, Terrence the seahorse and Jock the lobster. Their presence is a welcome addition thanks to their lively and infectious personalities. The song "Die Another Day" brings some much needed levity. Their characters have a strong sense of Disney about them; think Timon and Pumba in The Lion King, or Sebastian and Flounder in The Little Mermaid.
The unusual appearance of Richard E Grant as a hologram is both bizarre and unnecessary. His character of Kraken would be much better suited to an in-the-flesh actor on stage; even if Grant is one of the country's finest actors, his moment in Water Babies isn't going to stand as a highlight of his career.
Ed Curtis' production proves an elaborate pantomime (which isn't necessarily a negative). And Morgan Large's set design is nothing less than a masterpiece in some scenes, particularly the Water Babies' underwater quarters.
With the book and lyrics by Curtis and Guy Jones, added to Chris Eagen's music, the songs are catchy and modern; their creativity and imagination truly aid the storytelling. Whilst the content and plot are somewhat basic, the musical is pleasant and enjoyable. It has a loud imagination and the creativity of the production team make this, sometimes elaborate pantomime, into a musical that has a terrific amount of potential if it were to find a London home.
Water Babies plays at Leicester Curve until 17 May 2014