The Human Comedy
Music by Galt MacDermot, lyrics by William Dumaresq, from the story by William Saroyan
A Young Vic/The Opera Group production co-produced with Watford Palace Theatre
Despite sharing a composer, The Human Comedy is no Hair. The wartime tale of Californians is rather closer to a musical version of Our Town.
It follows the fortunes of the MacAuley family through the ups and downs of a tumultuous period. Already short of a patriarch, they struggle onwards, buoyed up by a remarkable musical talent and the stiff upper lip more usually associated with their counterparts on the other side of that oversized pond.
The Opera Group's John Fulljames has become a regular at the Young Vic with his community musicals. He does a good job in balancing the leading performers and around 100 irregulars, while telling a tale and keeping the audience entertained.
The original story was written by the revered William Saroyan. It pays homage to Homer, after whom one son is named, with another for his greatest hero, Ulysses, given real heart by Jordi Fray at this performance.
They are looked after in their Ithaca home by a tireless Ma (Helen Hobson). While making ends meet is difficult, help is at hand from Jos Slovick's 14-year-old Homer. He gets a job as runner for the telegraph office run by a comic duo of toping oldster Grogan and weak-willed clerk Spangler (Tony Stansfield and Jo Servi).
The latter is terrified by the woman who loves him, Brenda Edwards taking a week out from her Killer Queen gig in We Will Rock You to play the equally fearsome Diana.
The best of the singing comes from the oldest Macauley siblings. Guitarist Tom Robertson as GI Marcus has the smoothest of voices, while Kate Marlais, who plays piano could seduce as well as the sweetest of the sirens, playing his pretty sister, Bess.
The story is rather uneven, concentrating on its portrayal of small-town America for a little longer than strictly necessary, before moving into a tear jerking WWII romance that seems destined to end in tragedy but in fact ends in Chekhovian hope to sweeten the bitterest of pills.
This production of The Human Comedy, which also plays at the Watford Palace Theatre, has much variety in its short scenes and Galt McDermott's score. Designer Jon Bausor uses a massive stage space effectively, cleverly turning an emotive advertising hoarding into the interior of a plane carrying troops to battle.
While there are not the unforgettable catchy songs that have made Hair so popular, "Hi Ya, Kid", "Happy Anniversary" and the wittily choreographed "I Said, Oh No" are sweet, with "Beautiful Music" the most memorable, especially in an encore led by Miss Edwards.
In any event, this production achieves its goals in utilising the talents that Southwark has hidden away, while presenting an evening that should please audiences during its very short run.
Playing until 18 September
Reviewer: Philip Fisher