Songs For A New World
PHIL LIEBMAN drops the T-bomb on Clare Cellars’ American Dream.
Clare Cellars, 2nd-5th March, 8pm, £5-6
Directed by Emma Walton
Consistency is important in a show which pushes two hours, especially when sat sideways in a window. Unfortunately consistency was lacking almost as much as plot in this enjoyable but slightly cold production. At times engaging, novel, and fresh, this musical-come-song cycle suffered from some clichéd lyrics and occasionally static performances.
But the most baffling thing about this unusual production was the choice of venue. I love Clare Cellars, I’m at Clare, it’s a great venue for comedy and ents but for theatre it is a disaster. Both my legs went dead as I sat in my window seat, straining to see the quarter of a stage visible behind a pillar. How I longed for a chair and a view. How the often cold impersonality of a proper theatre suddenly all made sense. The lack of blood in the lower half of my body put me in a bad mood. Worse was the sound from the bar which provided a constant annoyance after a large suit-clad party arrived from formal.
More disappointing than this was the sound mixing; the “angry-bee” mode of sound production was not a good decision. Every loud line was accompanied by crackling speakers and ear pain. Harmonies became muddied in the buzz and the solo singing, the show’s biggest highlight, wasn’t shown off to its full potential. In such a small space did they really need to turn the microphones up so loud?
Photographs by Emma Walton
Now I’ve regained composure and the feeling in my legs, onto the performance itself. The singing was, for the most part, amazing. After a slightly nervy start pretty much every note was hit square on by all four talented performers. The songs were generally catchy with a definite Broadway musical vibe, although they spanned a number of genres with differing success. The idea of a thematic song-cycle is novel in itself but left me with an open pigeon hole expecting lyrics about slightly clumsy Themes. Right on cue the pigeon landed and “big” concepts such as The American Dream and Making a Choice were played on slightly clumsily throughout.
It’s hard in a show like this to get the balance between the music and fully engaging with each character. The staging suffered from slightly from static direction made worse by the constant disappearance of the characters behind a pillar. I have written pillar down on my notes no fewer than seven times, each time underlined more angrily than the last. Maria Penella Gómez stood out as the most engaging of the quartet, and her characters had a realism throughout that the others sometimes lacked. I especially enjoyed her Mrs Santa Claus, the desperate house wife in the song Surabaya-Santa which was both comic and oddly touching.
Big plaudits must also go to the band who were brilliant throughout. It is easy to forget the live music in a production like this unless they make a mess of it, but the quality of the playing throughout was as high as the singing.
This was a solid production with some great singing and music. The predictable score could have been more easily brushed over with some slightly more engaging acting performances. An unfortunate, not to mention uncomfortable, choice of venue was just about forgivable but the poor sound production in an entirely musical show was not.