Billed as the first British Chinese musical, Takeaway by Robert Lee (book and lyrics) and Leon Ko (music), is a disappointing musical about British-born Chinese Eddie (Stephen Hoo) finding his inner Tom Jones, then finding his own voice and coming out as bisexual.
Eddie works in his father’s takeaway restaurant on the Stratford High Road, but he gets dragged along to a pub talent contest by the Asian delivery girl, Dillon (Natasha Jayetilike), snared in his den by rangy guitarist Reese (Marcus Elland) and embroiled in rows with his dad (Ozzie Yue) over his education, faking a college place at Oxford.
As a showcase for the long-running musical theatre project at Stratford, you can applaud the ambition to pick up on the East London musicals of Lionel Bart and Ken Hill at this address. But a cast of eight, working hard in character and ensemble alike, cannot make the score and the songs seem anything but ordinary and inert, as well as over-written, and over-energetic, to no real effect.
Kerry Michael’s staging is busy and inventive, with designer Foxton following Ultz down the single name route, and providing an adaptable grey box that is effectively invaded by yellow banners as the yellow-masked East Asian Liberation Army tries to rescue Eddie from his Chinese takeaway hell.
They also bang on about the Morecambe cockle-worker scandal, typically in a show that never hangs together as a coherent narrative. Hoo is immensely charming as Eddie, resembling a cool, sedated version of Gok Wan, and singing with serious aplomb.
A singing girl trio of Gloria Onitiri, Shelley Williams and Gabby Wong beef up the proceedings as bluesy backing singers, sirens and girlfriends, as well as the Liberation Army, acting as a sort of putty in the window frames, but the glass comes loose all the same and rattles till the cracks appear.
There’s a weird funeral scene in which Eddie’s dead mother’s corpse, kissed passionately by her widower, turns out to be a grinning Reese. I was still trying to work that one out as anything more than an excuse to bring on a Chinese dragon as Eddie and Reese embarked on a tender duet in their boxer shorts.
Eddie’s dad’s new squeeze, a Hong Kong cinema star (Pik-sen Lim) fallen on hard times, sings a wistful memory song. A quintet of funky Tom Jones’s in red shirts and curly wigs let rip.
A finale chorus in gold spangly jackets is followed by a shower of knickers which the Tom Joneses throw at the audience; that’s our job, I thought. But the show’s like that, stuffed with ideas that are neither convincing nor fully worked out. And we’re not even sure whether Eddie, who’s gone steady with Dillon, is now facing stardom, or yet more cartons of fried rice and sweet and sour pork.