There are few more macabre theatrical spectacles than that of a new musical crashing and burning. When its behind-the-scenes dramas have been played out in full public view, with the flames of controversy being fanned in print by no less than the show’s own leading lady, it’s hardly surprising that the “ambulance chasers” that wish to gawp at the casualties have been out in force. And Murderous Instincts has been nothing if not a series of 999 calls.
Last month Nichola McAuliffe, reflecting on the ever-changing parade of personnel attached to it, wrote in a piece for the Daily Mail, “This show has had, to date, eight directors, four PR companies and innumerable general managers. But for the past week we’ve had the same team, and if they last another couple of days, I might even start learning their names” (See News, 15 Sep 2004).
It turns out that even that hope was premature. Since then, Bob Carlton has departed as director, to be briefly replaced by Michael Rooney (son of the actor Mickey) – who, in one of the show’s more bizarre developments, had to leave the country when it turned out he did not have a proper work visa but continued to be in touch with the rest of the creative team by phone (See News, 17 Sep 2004). While actors are sometimes derogatorily accused of ‘phoning in’ their performances, this must be one of the first occasions ever where a director has literally phoned his staging in.
Now that the show has finally opened at the Savoy Theatre - on schedule but after a heavily truncated preview period - it has no director at all credited, which must be another first (See The Goss, 24 Sep 2004). Instead, Murray Melvin and Syd Ralph are now billed as ‘artistic advisors’. But after all the reports of frayed tempers and even, apparently, marital strain between the show’s producer Manny Fox and his wife Cinda, who has written the book and lyrics to Alberto Carrion’s tunes, it’s amazing that the curtain even went up.
There are times when the off-stage dramas turn out to be altogether more compelling than the on-stage one, and you can’t wait for the curtain to go down again. This is one of those occasions. Murderous Instincts is as witless, pointless, nearly tuneless and even tasteless a musical as we’ve seen in London since last year’s brief blast of Money to Burn.
Apparently inspired by her personal legacy as one of the heirs to the Firestone tyre dynasty, Cinda Fox has written an absurd family farce in which a Puerto Rican widow Edwina Buckingham (McAuliffe) gathers together her adult children after their father’s death.
But then she disappears, as well McAuliffe might have chosen to do anyway, for most of the second act, propelling a mystery as to whether she’s been murdered for the inheritance that’s been left to her alone. Her children’s respective spouses take up with each other, but son Colin isn’t too upset. He’s already got a male lover lined up called Miguel, who in one of the show’s lowest spots, sings an abysmally tacky and terrible song, “It’s so much fun to be gay”.
I couldn’t say it was much fun, however, to watch this show. But even if McAuliffe really does have some cujones to brazen it out with a fierily imposed Latin passion, you do have to wonder how a show that’s supposed to be set in Puerto Rico can only feature one native of that country in its cast, Jhesus Aponte, who also does double-duty as the show’s too-frugally used salsa choreographer.
The result is as eccentrically a terrible musical as it has long been my misfortune to see.