A boy who looks barely 18 opens proceedings in this energetic new musical by Elliot Davis and James Bourne, and we then meet another of about the same age whom we are to believe is his rebellious teenage son. But then this is youth theatre and there probably isn’t a cast member over 20 in the whole show, including those who play townsfolk of 85 in the (heavy symbolism intended) fast-fading town of Hope, Texas.
It is therefore a something of a cavil to say that the show lacks experience, vocal range and emotional depth, for this is about developing the talents and team skills of young performers in a far more realistic way than TV talent shows can ever manage.
The story is crammed with heart-warming stuff about family virtues, mending broken relationships and “never giving up on your dreams”. Let’s be honest - it’s not going to set the world alight. It has zest and pizzazz, and plenty of good intention; the music and lyrics are very much in the boyband style - co-writer James Bourne, formerly of Busted, has had nine number one hits – and for one spellbinding moment in Act Two, father, son and grandson create something to equal any Westlife or One Direction you care to name. But, for all that, the show never establishes its own individuality or identity.
The one truly imaginative stroke is to set the story in the world of rocket science, where the grandfather pursues what would otherwise be seen as a mad dream of building his own space rocket and choosing to die in his own way (he has a fast-fading heart - heavy symbolism intended). The fact that he was part of the Apollo mission and was replaced at the last moment by Neil Armstrong gives this a whole new dimension of reality.
Luke Bayer as the rebellious son, Luke Banasiewicz as his reclusive grandfather and Lizzie Wofford as the local Sheriff give stand-out performances, and Steven Dexter directs a large and exuberant company with, well, yes, dexterity. There is an intriguing cardboard model village design concept (Alex Doidge-Green) and enough evidence of genuine talent in all departments to make this a thoroughly laudable project.
But, for all its professed “heart”, the show ultimately backs away from going the emotional distance, and the reconciliation of the generations should pack more dramatic punch.
- By Giles Cole