Communism: The Musical (A Story About Growing Up)

Liv Burton, music by Chris Holloway
Rocket Whip Productions
TriBeCa, Manchester

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Communism: The Musical (A Story About Growing Up)
Communism: The Musical (A Story About Growing Up)

Despite the title Communism: The Musical (A Story About Growing Up) does not feature political debate and only in the concluding moments addresses the idea of a character maturing. Writer and director Liv Burton crams so many incidents into the musical, identifying a theme or a coherent storyline is not easy.

Karl Kommufist (Jake Smeeton) lives in Dollaropolis where capitalism rules. He lacks a sense of purpose, which is odd as Mildron The Destroyer (Emily Millington), his 300-year-old mother (whose unusual name and longevity is not explained), claims responsibility for establishing communism. On her deathbed, Mildron demands Karl fight capitalism with the power of communism but expires without explaining the concept. With assistance from friends Emily (Emma Flynn) and Max (Ollie Hall) and hinderance from capitalist supervillains The Broker (Arisha-Jane Marsh) and Hot Dog Guy (Abi Beaven), Karl sets out on a quest.

Communism: The Musical is both a tribute to, and a gentle spoof of, the musical genre. The opening is in the traditional manner of musicals featuring the cast moving in synch with beaming smiles and big gestures. The characters may from time to time poke fun at musicals, particularly the need to burst into song or dance along, but the affection of the cast for the genre is never in doubt.

The dominant feature of the show is enthusiasm. This is not a show to see if you feel grumpy as the relentless perkiness of the cast could become annoying. Every song prompts the cast to encourage the audience to join in and clap along.

Director Burton sketches in the background to the musical in broad stokes like a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Capitalists are identified by wearing ties, while the underclass have headbands and communists have luxuriant moustaches. The tone is light, prompted by Chris Holloway’s bright and cheerful score, using simple keyboards to great effect.

The musical gives a practical demonstration of the political ideal of egalitarianism. Every character has the opportunity of a big number. This makes good use of a fine cast but plays havoc with the momentum of the show—the hero’s quest is ignored for most of act one.

Despite the affection for musicals, author Burton does not hesitate to point out flaws in the genre. Emma Flynn speculates why entirely sensible suggestions from female characters are always ignored.

As if determined the audience will never be bored, Burton shoves in as many jokes as possible regardless of their quality. A character who is dying not only literally kicks the bucket, she does so while criticising the poor calibre of the gag. Packing in everything including the kitchen sink results in a broad production that, at times, resembles a collection of jokes rather than a coherent story. A more focused approach might have resulted in a clearer storyline and stronger conclusion.

Nevertheless, Communism: The Musical (A Story About Growing Up) is a bright tribute to musicals that will cheer up even the most reluctant audience.

Reviewer: David Cunningham