Tuesday, 1 September 2020

REVIEW: Sleepless: A Musical Romance at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

Based on the original screenplay ‘Sleepless in Seattle, a film I have not seen (don’t come for me), this musical adaptation just doesn’t work. We have no need for it in our modern-day society. This may be an ok story to switch on in an evening whilst cooking dinner but as a theatrical experience in 2020, it just doesn’t do anything for us. The romance of the story is lost completely in the production and it doesn’t allow us to escape from our reality enough to forgive that. 

Michael Burdette (Book Writer), Robert Scott (Composer) and Brendan Cull (Lyrics) are the creative team behind the piece, unfortunately, this particular show just doesn’t click into place. The comedy and romance is missed and the music just doesn’t do what we need it to do.  

This show doesn’t have a style, it’s not sure if it’s in the modern era of music with a pop theme, if it’s a more classical musical theatre sound or a Sondheim feel in the score. It's confusing and unfortunately none of it is memorable. Most shows have at least one or two numbers that are staples and you remember walking out of the theatre but this one doesn’t have that, the songs just all mix together into one.  

The design of the show is very innovative, the revolve and the architect and boat theme in the set was very clever. I’m amazed at how big this houseboat was but none the less it was pleasing to the eye. Where this falls short however is the way it is staged; the set comes out like a triangle however the seating banks are still in a traditional end on form, which means that actually, we feel so much further away from the action. It’s almost as if it’s a touring show that has landed in a venue that was booked by mistake. 

In terms of how the venue is with dealing with the safety of their patrons, it succeeds somewhat. At no point did it feel too crowded or out of control and all staff are protected with masks and visors. I’m a little baffled however how this venue can seat people so close (no one was in my row but people were sat behind us, though not directly but sat adjacent in the seats behind) whereas at Regents Park (where the concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar is currently playing) they are having people at least one row away from each other. I’m not entirely sure on the guidance the government has given out, is anyone really? But comparing the two is a little confusing in the logic behind it. 

Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuiness star in the show as Annie and Sam, the pair don’t seem to have much chemistry on stage. This may sound silly as they don’t meet until *SPOILER* the end of the piece but there seems to be no longing for each other during the production or any magnetic attraction that brings the two together. As accomplished musical theatre performers with leading roles in numerous musicals across the UK and the West End, I also expected a much higher level of ability. The acting wasn’t very believable. Many comic moments were missed and any heartwarming moments were just washed amongst every other emotion that was appearing throughout. The story between the two was lost and they were outshone by their colleagues. Vocally, Walsh, unfortunately, couldn’t match up to what the score asked from her, leaving quite a few solo numbers feeling very underwhelming. 

At this performance the role of Jonah was played by Jobe Hart, this young man was the star of the show. His ability blew his fellow performers off the stage. With a CV bigger than some of the adults in the cast, this one is certainly one to watch. 

Cory English is one of the most brilliant comic musical theatre actors I have had the pleasure of witnessing, his performance in The Producers was just groundbreaking. In this show, he does his best with the material and himself and Hart get the biggest round of applause after a fantastic number together. 

Harriet Thorpe, blink and you’ll miss her. An underused talent in a part that didn’t have an effect on the plot. 

The absolute highlight of the show was a trio number that I believe is called ‘Dear Sleepless’, with Charlie Bull, Leanne Garretty and Dominique Planter. This was the best song in the show and the performances from these ladies stole the entire of the first act.

The rest of the ensemble, whilst talented, felt completely useless. They were used as a scene change filler and often, at times, got in the way of the plot at no fault of their own, this was a directional issue. 

Another highlight was Charlie Bull as Victoria, one of the only people in the show to get a genuine laugh from the audience. Also showing she’s a very versatile performer as she played numerous characters throughout, if I didn’t have a programme I wouldn’t have known it was all played by one actor. 

This musical unfortunately doesn't hit the mark, in a time where we need theatre and with it being one of the few shows that are running at the moment its a disappointment. Maybe if you’re a fan of the film this may be a hit, but for me, it was dull and uninspiring. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★ 

Seat: E11 | Price of Ticket: £45
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