A splash of Tinseltown shines forth from Hoxton Hall, in the latest offering from This Stage Limited: Bright Lights, Big City. This new musical, set in New York in 1984, is however, quite without tinsel, or glitter, or the usual razzmatazz one associates with musical theatre. It is instead, a wonderfully slick, raw and honest production which favours a stripped back style and achieves that rare musical hat trick of great singing, great dancing and great acting.
The story follows struggling writer Jamie (Paul Ayres) a young boy in the city, who isn’t quite the ‘city boy,’ struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother. This, combined with his artistic inertia, the breakup of his marriage and the temptations of the NYC party scene, soon begins to take its toll.
The show kicks off well with "Bright Lights, Big City" sung by Jamie and company, exposing the gritty underbelly of New York life, championing the drugs that are taken with gleeful aggression, the song ending with the line "I just love druuuuuuuuugs". Other musical highlights include "Sunday Morning 6am", marking the beginning of Jamie’s descent, plus the tongue-in-cheek "To Model" and the poignant "Brother" which also serve to establish the severity of Jamie’s situation in distinct and compelling ways.
Paul Ayres is flawless as Jamie; a character of naivety, vanity and foolishness, his kind heart is no match for the juggernaut of the New York city scene. Rachel Wooding too is scintillating as Amanda, dressed in a very short black cocktail dress and a pink shirt (very Hoxton) her desire for fame and fortune is Cheryl, Cher and Katie combined, excepting the fact she could sing and dance any of them of the X Factor stage. The ensemble too excels, their edgy, infectious energy doesn’t miss a beat for a full uninterrupted eighty minutes.
The real coup though, is in director Christopher Lane’s lithe production values, which enable the performers to do what performers to best, tell stories. If the narrative is a little thin, then the subtle way in which characters are revealed papers any cracks. During the climatic number "Brother Two", Jamie’s brother Michael (Matthew Gent) sings about the way Jamie arrived at their mother’s funeral in a rented sports car. This revelation highlights just how low Jamie has sunk.
Bright Lights, Big City is a show which portrays the particularly harsh lights that shine on a constantly changing city – but this show’s real triumph lies in its ability to covertly cast a light on the intricate tapestry of daily life.