Everything has a shelf life and musical theatre is definitely no exception to that rule. But I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road had a very brief innings indeed; it enjoyed a few years Off-Broadway before creeping away on tour and it hasn’t been seen on the West End for 35 years.
Now revived at the Jermyn Street Theatre, the show retains astonishing relevance for a musical which debuted back in 1978. It’s the story of Heather (Landi Oshinowo), a 39-year-old singer fighting to remain both sexy and artistically credible in the minds of the public which (then as now) always seems to just be craving a hot new model. After all, women popstars have the shortest shelf lives of all.
The setting is a band practice. Heather goes to war with her manager Joe (Nic Colicos) over how to keep her brand fresh. She and the band proceed to rattle through a bunch of new songs about her recent divorce. Because if Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson can pull off grey hair and wrinkles and look attractive, why shouldn’t a woman be sexy for showing her experience too?
To Joe this sounds too confrontational to be a commercial success. Why not stick to the old hits? The fans love those. Olivia Newton-John isn’t confrontational! Linda Ronstadt isn’t confrontational!
Obviously, this is about more than just creative differences. It’s about double standards, the different things expected of a man and a woman, and how the pair have seen their own romantic relationships collapse for those reasons.
Oshinowo and Colicos give fulminating performances: she, flanked by her backing singers (Rosanna Hyland and Kristen Gaetz), a triumvirate of womanly indignation behind their microphones; he, by turns conciliatory and then explosively chauvinistic.
Director Matthew Gould ensures that both the music and the gradual embittering of the two characters build slowly but surely towards a complex and satisfyingly-dissatisfying ending – which elevates the show well above your bog-standard battle-of-the-sexes.
The score itself is imaginative and soul-infused, and executed by band-members Alice Offley, David Gibbons, Nick Barstow and Rich Craig. Now and then, they down instruments, contributing lines as they stride in their groovy garb across the busy, 1970s-style set. Full marks for that, by the way.
In the petite Jermyn Street Theatre, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were as many creatives involved tonight as there are punters watching. Any musical is a big old job to put on a stage, but the intimacy of the Jermyn Street Theatre really is ideal for a pointed and surprisingly dark drama like this one.
I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 23 July.