Inner City Jam at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and on National Tour
When the cast of Inner City Jam start to tap, hit and kick Martin Mcleod's uncluttered post-industrial scaffold and rubble set for all its percussive worth, they invoke a fear that this musical will be a pale imitation of dustbin lid bashing Stomp. But director and writer Paul J Medford, currently appearing as a hyena in Disney extravaganza The Lion King, is just teasing us prior to unleashing a show that incorporates a collection of jazz, soul, funk and R&B-laced grooves. There are quite a few comedy takes on West End-style musical extravaganza along the way but this production, although dealing with 'big issues', is really about music.
Inner City Jam became a minor cult hit when it appeared on Broadway in the '70s. Set in New York and with the music and lyrics of Helen Miller and Eve Merriam, it highlighted the social ills of the day. Medford has added new lyrics to Helen Miller's original tunes (given an update by MD Delroy Murray along with Medford and Shezwae Powell) that transform the show into a very British piece, while the integrated video sequences and Venol King's street dancing choreography also move everything into the present.
The characters are the caricatures of inner city life: two homeless youngsters (Chris Dyer and Nick Holmes), a gay man (Danny Edwards), a gym slip mum (Fiona Wade), a prostitute (Josie Walker), a mad old woman (Angela Moran), a Scottish wino and a drug pusher (John Ashton). They all get to sing about how appalling life is in and around Kings Cross, where the action is set. What this musical lacks in plot is more than made up for by the talented cast, who all possess formidable voices. (Holmes and Dyer also get to show their versatility with a crowd pleasing tap dancing duel). Enyonam Gbesemete, who plays Joy, wins the award for belting her soul out the hardest and the loudest - she could give Aretha Franklin a run for her money. The gospel 'It's My Belief' would get even the most hardened arms-folded-entertain-me audience member moving.
Word of mouth will ensure that Inner City Jam will be with us for some time. This is soulful social realism with a five piece band, and, as a snapshot of multi-cultural warts 'n' all Blairite Britain, Inner City Jam hits the mark most of the time - and you can tap your feet to it.