Review: CUMTS Presents: The 24 Hour Musical

Cambridge’s all-singing, all-dancing troupe take on no mean feat with unbridled enthusiasm


It’s Week 0 of Lent Term – a busy time for pretty much everyone at Cambridge, amid the bustle of students arriving back to college, half of us still hurriedly attempting to finish our Michaelmas lectures, and the impending promise of another eight weeks of relentless deadlines.

But, before Lent has even really begun, the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society seem to have accomplished the almost unbelievable; they have written, produced and staged an entirely original musical in just 24 hours.

It’s a risky business and one that filled this reviewer’s heart with a certain amount of trepidation – after all, could there be any other show more in danger of collapsing into complete chaos? However, I am glad to say that CUMTS’ one-night-only extravaganza at the ADC (ably directed by Anna Morgan, Amber De Ruyt, Vinith Bhandari, Jake Fenton, Dylan Evans and Chani Merrell) was largely a success, perhaps expectedly rough around the edges, but more than made up for by an infectious spirit of joy and laughter.

Rapid rehearsals… but also time for plenty of fun! Image credits: Charlotte Dargan

After an energetic opening monologue from Joe Venable, the musical entered full-swing with a true earworm of an opening number, which is still doing the rounds in my brain as I write this the following morning. The theme of the show quickly becomes clear: we are about to see unfold all the dramatic hijinks of a family wedding.

The concept is a stroke of genius – I can think of few environments better in which to mould the slight chaos of a hurriedly produced musical than one defined by wedding-day jitters, familial drama, and a plentiful supply of alcohol.

What follows is something of a musical sketch show, as we are given brief insights into a colourful array of wedding guests and their feelings about the ceremony which, much like everything else in the musical theatre world, are anything but coy.

This is a show that moves at breakneck speed – there’s almost no time for CUMTS’ enthusiastic audience to applaud one song before we move swiftly onto the next. Yet, despite this relentless pace, there were more than a few moments which have clung to memory.

Natina Rose, Emilia Grace and Lily Blundell give confident vocal performances as three ‘ladies who brunch’ (a clever nod to the recently departed Stephen Sondheim on behalf of the songwriters) and Christian Longstaff’s turn as a best man lovestruck by the groom is a particular standout, characterised by a sharp sense of comedic timing.

However, the song of the night surely has to be a two-hander from James Carroll and Bolin Dai, both of whom give magnetic performances as the show’s true romantic soulmates. Their number, slyly playing on that oh-so Gen-Z concept of ‘red flags’, was handled by the actors with such poise that one could almost overlook the admirable complexity of the lyrics.

Musical director Georgia Rawlins and performer Joe Venable. Image credits: Charlotte Dargan

All this is not to say that the show was purely smooth sailing. With a rehearsal time bordering on shorter than most actual weddings, there were bound to be instances of mic failures, line bungling and the occasional fit of corpsing. It must be admitted that these moments were handled with variable levels of confidence by different performers, often working best when made to be a part of the comedy in themselves rather than simply ‘mistakes’.

I almost wish I had a copy of the lyrics sheets printed out, as the work of writers Abraham Alsalihi, Jonathan Powell, Kate South, Tom Mullen, Elliot Kelly and James Coe was often so witty that it was a shame when understandable lapses in performers’ memories left some of their work undisplayed.

Yet, even if it was fairly easy to tell which cast members are gifted with better powers of recollection, there was not a single weak link to be found when it came to enthusiasm: every performer gave it their all.

As the show reached its conclusion, the nature of its swift construction became somewhat more glaring – blink and you might miss where the rogue’s gallery of disgruntled guests suddenly decide that they’re all hunky-dory with the wedding they’ve just spent the last hour complaining about. Other foibles spring to mind; I couldn’t help but feel that the songs, while well-constructed, could have done with greater stylistic and narrative variety – perhaps there’s one too many a number expressing disgust at the fickle nature of marriage.

But then the show ends with a triumphant reprise of that catchy opening number, and suddenly all criticisms seem unimportant in the face of such unabashed glee. It’s far from a perfect package, but if this is what CUMTS are capable of in merely 24 hours, then I have nothing but eager anticipation for what they have in store later in the term.

4/5

CUMTS Presents: 24 hour Musical ran for one night only at 21.00 at the ADC Theatre on Tuesday 18th January. The show’s Camdram page can be found here.

Feature image credits: Claire Lee Shenfield