Bright Lights, Big City

Paul Scott Goodman, based on the novel by Jay McIneney
This Stage Limited
Hoxton Hall
(2010)

Bright Lights, Big City publicity image

The start of Bright Lights, Big City is worrying. It’s loud, it’s energetic, its lyrics are lost in a bad sound balance and it’s sung through. After catching a mere handful of words in the first five minutes of loud guitar and trying too hard, most of the audience surely worry that they’re going to miss the plot.

There’s not too much plot to miss, so nobody need worry about that, but it does get better after the incomprehensible first five minutes. Something about a party? Something about drugs? Once the opening number, which strains too hard to make an impact, is out of the way, the lyrics become much clearer and the characters start to emerge.

Jamie is a writer who has lost his way (no, it’s not Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years). His wife has left him, he’s soon fired from his job, and his mother is recently dead. Instead of reaching out to the brother who is trying to contact him, he loses himself in partying and drugs. But with persistence from the people around him, he begins to find his way back to his typewriter.

Paul Ayres as Jamie has a good grasp of the role, mastering its haunting high notes with control and ease. But two of the female leads, Rachael Wooding as ex-wife Amanda and Jodie Jacobs as new love Vicky, are the two real attention catchers. Despite a score that isn’t overly considerate of the singers’ ranges, the two deliver effortlessly with power and truthfulness.

However, despite the sterling efforts of a stellar cast, the show fails to deliver on an emotional level. It’s like Paul Scott Goodman, who wrote the book, lyrics and music, has dunked his hand in a bag of big issues, mixed what he’s pulled out into a loose plot, and skated over them without thinking too much about them.

There was a disappointing lack of original emotion in the lyrics. People who’ve lost someone miss the little things; people look in the mirror and don’t recognise the person looking back; people who aren’t coping turn to drugs - these are all things we’ve seen and heard before in countless plays and musicals. If this was a summary of the clichéd way theatre deals with difficult issues, it succeeded. But at best, the show was all second hand emotions.

Despite the lack of depth, the show moves at a good pace and doesn’t ever get boring; there’s a dodgy moment when Goodman dunks his hand in his bag of issues and gives ‘regretful mother’ to a peripheral character for no particular reason, but the quality of the delivery from Rietta Austin means that the show doesn’t grind to a halt. Much of the show is similarly carried by the vocal power of the cast, but it’s also carried by the slick staging and choreography.

During the worrying opening the choreography by Fabian Aloise looks too slick and choreographed instead of looking spontaneous, but for the rest of the show both the choreography and the direction by Christopher Lane are suitably energetic and raw, if rather camp.

Although Bright Lights, Big City is quite forgettable on the whole, the music is entertaining, the cast are of a West End standard and the staging is well done. It's a just a shame that the overriding feeling that the audience leave with is one of déja-vu.

Running until 25th November

Reviewer: Emma Berge