This sounded promising. Music and lyrics by James Bourne who has written a vast catalogue of well crafted guitar based pop songs for Busted and McFly, amongst others. Book and lyrics by Elliott Davis whose collaboration with Stiles and Drewe on Soho Cinders was one of the highlights of this year. Even the advertising promises “If you like Grease/Glee, you’ll love Loserville”. It is with a heavy heart that I have to report that it is more Timmy Mallett and Roland Rat than Sandy and Danny, more the Wiggles than the Warblers, more likely to be replaced by the Rat Pack at Christmas than seeing in the New Year.
In 1971 on Francis O'Connor's shiny cartoonish set Aaron Sidwell’s uber-geek Michael Dork is attempting to invent e-mail. His equally nerdy pals including Richard Lowe’s Lucas, endlessly referencing the yet to be filmed Star Wars, and almost pop star Lil’ Chris’s plain stupid Francis are at loggerheads with the school jocks. Top Jock Eddie’s father owns the local communications company, complete with extensive computer capability and girls hold the upper hand, as they are want to.
The bright shiny songs are endlessly tuneful and sometimes thrilling but the bright shiny costumes are more 1982 than 1971. Unfortunately, the story and dialogue are simply nowhere near as engaging and funny as they need to be to sustain a two hour show. Director Steven Dexter has the actors overplay the geekiness, apart from a lovely naturalistic turn from Elizabeth Hope Bennett as new girl Holly, and it becomes so grating so quickly that all empathy for any of the characters promptly disappears. You only have to look at the Big Bang Theory to see that there is plenty of comedic mileage to be had from a group of self-absorbed nerds railing against the world, but it needs to be played for real. Here everything is reduced to caricature - performances, set, props. Maybe children and very young teenagers will find something to enjoy, but is that really a sustainable audience for a successful West End musical?
There is the germ of a good show in here somewhere and I do appreciate that it is still in previews. However it has already had a month long run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and it is so far from ready for the West End that the scheduled opening night of 17 October seems as optimistic as the thought of the world wide web did in 1971.
Booking until 2 March 2013, If you like Glee and Grease, get out the DVDs - Loserville