London Theatre Workshop, a new-kid-on-the-block 65-seater boutique theatre in the bowels of Fulham, launches with a chamber musical about New York life and the ‘ordinary days’ of four of its young inhabitants trying to find their way in that concrete jungle.
Artistic director Ray Rackham, a big Sondheim fan whose Assassins was much admired at the Pleasance, is the driving force behind the venture and this addition to the London pub fringe scene is to be warmly welcomed as well as applauded on its ambition to bring a “slice of Broadway life on the New Kings Road”.
We’ve seen composer-lyricist Adam Gwon’s 75-minute four-hander before, first at the Finborough in 2008 and with Julie Atherton repeating the role of Claire at Trafalgar Studios three years ago, and it’s a likeably tuneful, well-crafted piece about the difficulty of achieving human interaction in that city of strangers.
Many of the 19 songs are witty and one or two, like the haunting ‘I’ll Be Here’ and ‘Hundred Story City’ (which brings to mind Sondheim’s ‘Another 100 People’), well worth hearing again.
It tells, through a series of songs that now and again echo the work of Jason Robert Brown and other 21st century Sondheim wannabes, how the simple act of one of them mislaying a graduate thesis at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and having it returned by a gentle cat-sitting weirdo in a very amusing scene at Starbucks, can result in disparate people connecting in a city that extols the virtues of making connections.
My problem is that the parts of these two, the suburban Deb doubting whether the big city is right for her either and the gay Warren unable to make headway as an aspiring artist, are better written than the counterpointing tense relationship between Jason and Claire.
The latter pair are setting up home together in a NYC shoebox but finding that the little things they don’t do together in the end turn a rift into a chasm.
Although they briefly mingle at the end of the show, the two couples never interact, a bitter-sweet comment on the cramped anonymity of life in a city of more than eight million people.
Accompanied only by MD Thomas Lee on piano, the cast of Oliver Watton, Marcia Brown, Anton Tweedale and Olga-Marie Pratt sing Gwon’s lyrics with admirable clarity.
Pratt (Deb), herself a New Yorker with a head start on accent, gives us some wonderful facial expressions and humour; Watton, with the looks and light tenor of a young Neil Patrick Harris, has the best voice but least-interesting part as marriage-minded Jason; Tweedale’s understanding of his quirky role as loner Warren without clear sight of his future makes him very sympathetic, and Brown (Claire) makes the most of her moist-eyed moment with the big song of the evening, the cathartic ‘I’ll Be Here’, which provides the audience with the final clue about why the past is getting in the way of her present.
If this is the standard we are going to get on a regular basis – works by Eugene O’Neill and Harvey Fierstein are next on the season one agenda – then lovers of good theatre are going to get to know Fulham a whole lot better.