They’re playing our song, and they’re wearing our wigs! Fiona Laird’s slick and cheesy revival of the 1979 musical about the once real-life working relationship of composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager is the best ever bad hair day for musical theatre buffs.
Alistair McGowan as the wise-cracking Vernon Gersch is obviously mindful that Tom Conti played the role in the London premiere (opposite Gemma Craven) at the Shaftesbury and has secured a lush mop of Conti coiffure. Connie Fisher as neurotic, hyper-active Sonia Walsk looks first like Maureen Lipman after losing a serious argument with a hairdryer and second and thirdly as though she’s developed an idolatrous crush on Shirley MacLaine (cutely cropped page boy) and Angie Dickinson (Charlie’s Angels flyaway style).
The point is that this edgy couple each has three alter-egos – a clever way of writing both chorus numbers and ensemble scene changes – and these same- sex trios have identical clothes and hair-do’s; the show has a visual consistency that makes it resemble middle period Top of the Pops with a karaoke cast of the Bee Gees, Barry Manilow and the Village People.
Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography is bang on the money for such a low level concept, with a lot of John Travolta-style posing, while Matthew Wright’s design cleverly conjures the world of showbiz schlock with a revolving vinyl record floor, a baby grand piano with ornamental Oscar and a Manhattan skyline. It’s all highly enjoyable, though not exactly in the spirit of either Neil Simon’s witty book, or indeed the songs themselves.
McGowan gets better with each musical he does, and Fisher proves that her Maria in The Sound of Music was no flash in the pan; she’s added a good growl to her lower register, too. They’re both bright and fairly funny, but what’s lacking is sexual chemistry. The songs, a mixture of disco beat and sentimental ballad, are all worth listening to, but this is not a score to love, like Hamlisch’s for A Chorus Line.
Simon’s comic point is that in forging a new relationship there’s always an old one barging in, but he chickens out of this dramatically when a first act resolution of the problem is completely overruled in the second. Still, the Menier has offered another collectable nostalgia trip and one of the best Broadway attempts to analyse the process of song-writing.