Personals continues at the Landor Theatre, London until 9 August.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★
This isn’t a high-concept piece but it doesn’t try to be – more like a sitcom but with the form and tropes of a musical. And you can’t fault two hours of grinning, literal laughs out loud and light foot-tapping.
The premise – a bunch of New York singles (and the typesetter for a ‘personal ads’ column, with exquisitely detailed acting from Robert Bannon) regale the audience with monologues, scenes and songs, occasionally dropping out of their primary characters for some of the more throwaway (but no less entertaining) musical comedy segments.
The cast of six are all on form, with commandingly entertaining charisma whenever the show brings them the spotlight – Rebecca Westberry oozes comedy from a handful of different wacky but loveable characters, Rebecca Gilliland plays an ambivalent, but determined-for-love divorcee with a show-stopping torch song in Act II.
Lauren Nevin is charming throughout as a girl-next-door opposite Patrick Barrett’s adorable-yet-alone guy with a lot of baggage. Matthew Chase also does a brilliant job playing a virginal, fish-out-of-water guy learning the ropes of relationship etiquette with a dubious cassette tape. The situations vary in believability, but the well-directed cast handles that maturely and the result pays off, with the sincere moments given nuance and space.
It all adds up to a kind of antidote to Company, for the younger, unmarried audience – a touch more up-to-date and thus relatable (though still very typical of the 1990s in some ways). At points it’s evocative of Friends, the TV show whose writers came together to produce the book, delivered here with commitment and perfectly-placed comic touch.
It also does that thing of occasionally stretching a Brit’s awareness of American pop culture, in a way any fan of Friends would have grown used to. Musically, it careers from cute pop pastiche to more a jaunty, piano-led, contemporary musical theatre tone (particularly with Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s individual submissions to the score).
Katy Richardson’s band effortlessly rides along with the actors and Robert McWhir’s direction and Cameron Hall’s choreography utilise the Landor’s oft-cramped stage with grace. The result is a well-rounded and thoroughly engaging outing of less than top-drawer material, truly brightened by some great new actors, and a testament to the entire creative team.