It's been nearly two years since Personals, from the creators of TV hit Friends, first premiered in the UK at the New End Theatre. So why has this show taken so long to make its way to the West End? It would appear there were two main obstacles along it's transfer route: one, competition from another, hugely similar, New York musical revue; and two, how do I put this politely, well, it's just not very good.
Competition came in the form of I Love You, You re Perfect, Now Change which chugged into the Comedy Theatre for a run last summer. This musical revue, a long-running hit in New York, was a series of sketches featuring four actors two men, two women playing a cast of thousands (okay, I exaggerate) experiencing the vicissitudes of modern relationships from blind dates to weddings, divorces and cruising funeral parlours.
Personals, on the other hand, is a series of sketches about a motley crew experiencing the vicissitudes of modern relationships from blind dates to wedding and divorces featuring six actors.
To be fair, there are differences in Personals, directed by Dion McHugh, some of the sketches are connected, some of the lyrics (care of Michael Skloff, who wrote the famous Friends theme 'I'll Be There for You', Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz) are quite clever, and the emphasis is more about singledom than life and relationships taken to their twilight of life conclusion, as in I Love You&. But the clichéd similarities can't be denied, nor frankly endured easily a second time round, most notably the video-dating and interfering mothers gags.
There are some flaws that Personals can claim all for its own as well. On the whole, it's both too long and too short. There's simply not enough material here to hold the attention and a delayed start and drawn-out interval don't help but at barely 90 minutes (minus the delayed start and drawn-out interval), it's hard to feel you re getting value for money for a night out in the West End.
You also can't help but feel manipulated by the publicity for this show, which emphasises the Friends legacy, claiming that the cardboard characters of Personals informed creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane s later development of Chandler, Monica, Ross, Rachel, Joey and Phoebe. But aside from the fact that there are six apiece three boys, three girls and one of the females in Personals is a bit anal about how she folds her laundry, the connections are nigh on non-existent.
It's common practice, of course, but this latest attempt to capitalise on the success of one hit by wheeling out earlier and, in this case, much inferior work doesn't make swallowing it any easier.
Here is the review of Personals last time it was in London, at Hampstead's New End Theatre
Personals is the creation of three writers - David Crane, Seth Friedman and Marta Kauffman. Since writing this, their first full work, Kauffman and Crane have achieved note as the creators of the TV uberhit Friends.
It's hard to let go of the Friends connection. Even the venue - Hampstead's fringe New End Theatre - seems perfectly cast. It's just the sort of place you'd expect to see Joey performing while his eponymous mates watch with a mixture of fear and embarrassment.
It's unlikely, however, that Chandler and co would feel either fear or embarrassment at this slick and engaging production of Personals. Of course, it might seem rather familiar territory to them. Six actors perform a sequence of musical numbers and sketches all concerning the search for love.
Personals covers everything from the trials of placing a classified ad to the importance of the friends you go to when love hits the rocks. For my money, the best number is 'Moving In With Linda', an imaginative take on the issue of 'baggage'. Sam's optimism at moving in with his new girlfriend is tempered by the realisation that he's bringing all his failed relationships with him. This is wittily realised as his exes appear from packing crates to remind him of both the good and bum times.
Set pieces like this ensure that the evening buzzes happily along from one number to the next. There are no astounding new truths at which to marvel, but the take on human relationships is intelligent and ultimately optimistic.
Apparently, Personals has evolved over the years so that, although originally conceived as revue, it has developed a throughline and a number of book characters. The result is a tad infuriating; there are some characters you follow through the sequence and others who crop up and disappear never to be seen again. The piece would benefit from some consistency in either direction.
It's also a bit grating that the show fails to stick to the central conceit of the Personals ads. Again, some of the material is focused on these, but much of it isn't. Maybe the piece has evolved so much that it's time for the title to change?
Overall, Personals has much to recommend it. The writing of lyrics and dialogue is consistently high. So too are the performances. If anything, there are too many clever ideas being planted here. There's sufficient material for several shows... or maybe, just maybe, a TV series?