After a sold-out run at the tiny Hen and Chickens pub theatre in Islington last autumn, the satirical musical Blair on Broadway now takes a bigger stage in the West End. With book and lyrics by Ian Hollingshead and music by Timothy Muller, this is more revue-style sketch show than fully fledged musical, and more spoof than satire. But though the show fits nicely into the intimate studio space of the Arts Theatre, its mildly amusing portrait of the figurehead of New Labour makes little dramatic, musical or political impact. A transfer to Broadway seems as unlikely as Tony Blair converting to Islam.
There have already been a number of attempts to satirise Blair musically, including Justin Butcher’s over-the-top if exuberant The Madness of George Dubya by (also at the Arts) and Alastair Beaton’s disappointingly lacklustre Follow My Leader. The conceit of this show is that Blair tells his own story as Britain’s leader in the guise of a Broadway musical (and presumably hoping to win a Tony). As the subtitle “The finest actor of his age” indicates, Blair is portrayed as a consummate performer always conscious of his public image, but once again the Teflon prime minister escapes unscathed in an amiably toothless show that lacks any penetrative insights.
The episodic story moves from New Labour’s jubilation at the end of 13 years of Tory rule in 1997 – the high-water mark of Blair’s popularity – to his giving way to Gordon Brown ten years later after losing all public trust. As is made clear, the main reason for this downfall was of course the unpopular war in Iraq, the ultimate exercise in spin. The cheerfully breezy, upbeat style of the shows seems at odds with the downward spiral of the events depicted. Moreover, the half-hearted attacks on predictable soft targets and the cartoonish characterisation reveal nothing new.
Muller’s often jazz-tinged and pastiche Broadway show music is quite tuneful, while Hollingshead’s lyrics sometimes rhyme wittily, but both tend to be on the bland side. The more entertaining numbers include a red-lit Mephistophelian Alastair Campbell urging the PM to “Spin It”, an aggressively rapping Jeremy Paxman addressing Blair as “You Preening Git” and awkward couple Blair and Bush singing a duet “Shoulder to Shoulder”, but the songs by anti-war protestors fail to rouse.
Director and choreographer Jessica Dawes ensures the action is reasonably free-flowing, while the cast is pretty lively. Joshua Martin does a passable impression of Blair, giving him the boyish enthusiasm of a wannabe rock star. Tara Siddall plays the increasingly frustrated Cherie “Juggling Balls”, and Chris Cambridge is very funny as the slack-jawed, tongue-rolling Brown impatiently waiting for “My Turn” in the limelight.