Above the Stag is a small pub theatre just behind the Palace Theatre in Victoria where the highly successful Billy Elliot is currently running. The cast is much smaller of course but the five singers, together with musical director and accompanist Debbie Morris, fill the venue with a professionalism and enthusiasm that can match anything in its grander neighbour.
The evening unfolds with a lively mix of anecdotes, jokes and songs from musicals that didn’t quite make it, as well as some that did. The audience are treated to such gems as “Silence” from the improbable musical of Silence of the Lambs and the ridiculous “Shadows of the Deep” from Moby Dick. But surprisingly there are pearls to be found. Who remembers the musical, The Baker’s Wife? Yet the charming “Chanson” from that show, beautifully sung by Elena Rossi, stands the test of time.
The reasons for a show’s failure, the cast explain, may be many. Political events, the state of the economy and other outside influences can be important. La Cage aux Folles, illustrated with two songs including an excellent “I Am What I Am” by Tim McArthur, first opened on Broadway in 1986 at the height of the Aids epidemic and closed soon after. Yet its rivival has been hugely successful. A simple case of bad timing.
Sometimes there may be no obvious explanation for a flop. Some shows just don’t make it across the Atlantic. The audience are treated to a medley of songs from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bombay Dreams and The Rocky Horror Show, all great successes in Britain but flops in the United States. Others such as The Rink or Steel Pier, which features the highly suggestive “Everybody’s Girl” sung with appropriate spunk by Julia Addison, did the reverse. Even such respected writers as Steven Sondheim have had their disasters it seems. His show, Anyone Can Whistle, closed after only nine performances on Broadway.
Blink!...and you missed it! is the first in-house musical from Above the Stag’s directing team of Peter Bull and Tim McArthur. They have made an excellent start. Working with limited space, they and the cast have created a show to appeal to everyone from the avid musical goer to the reluctant hanger-on.
The range of songs is well chosen, from sure-fire hits to the squirmingly embarrassing. The prize in the latter category must go to a song from the musical Side Show, which tells the story of a pair of Siamese twin sisters. Two girls attached at the arm by a large golden bow, singing a song entitled “I Will Never Leave You” to each other is the highlight of the evening and something no one in the audience will forget for some considerable time.
- Louise Gooding