Once the production team of The Great Pretenders has decided whether it's a musical or a play with music, this should be a great fringe show. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a perfect venue for this production and there is promise in Neil Harrison (of The Bootleg Beatles fame) and Simon Jermond’s writing. However, some dialogue editing and the removal of a musical number or two would make for a snappier show.
Great Pretenders centres around a group of tribute acts who have gathered to audition for a tribute show transferring from Las Vegas to the West End in London. As the majority of action is set in the dressing room, the life of each tribute act is explored and we find out that some of them have a history together, making for more drama off-stage than on.
This is a clever premise for a musical and for the most part the performances and direction by Christian Durham help us to get caught up in the backstage drama. Leon Kay as PJ and Rebecca Bainbridge as Paula give strong performances. PJ is a cross-dressing ex-Army man and his struggle to let his wife know he is a Liza Minelli impersonator builds nicely to a memorable climax in his Act Two torch song.
Paula is a woman with a past, nearing the end of her career as a Marilyn Monroe tribute act. It turns out that she and Andy (played convincingly by David Higgins) have a score to settle. Jennifer Saayeng as Joyce/Beyonce has a beautiful voice, perfect for her gospel–singing character, and Crystal Van Lloy as Kat, the other Marilyn Monroe impersonator, exudes vileness from her very core.
Less convincing are Luke Jasztal as Liam and Susan Raasay as Bibi. For both, this is mainly down to the choice of accents for their characters. If Irish and American accents are to be used, they need to be done well. On this occasion, the accents distracted from the portrayal of what could have been two nice characterisations.
Great Pretenders has the potential to be a warm and funny musical. There are some good musical numbers and great characters which could combine to make for an even more enjoyable night at the theatre.