Eliot Davis and James Bourne
Kevin Wallace Ltd, T C Beech Ltd, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Youth Music Theatre
Another American High School musical, but this time not an import—a British original. Although it had its beginnings in the 2005 album “Welcome to Loserville” from James Bourne’s post-Busted band Son of Dork, it is not a jukebox musical. Less than half the numbers come from the album, the rest are new and there’s a real story, though a simple one.
It is set back in 1971, pre e-mail and Facebook. Computer geek Michael Dork (Aaron Sitwell) and his mates Lucas (Richard Lowe), Marvin (Richard Buckley) and Francis (Lil’ Chris) are trying to find a way to make computers talk to each other. When new girl Holly Manson (Eliza Hope Bennett) arrives she is treated as the class frump but her unfashionable look is deliberate and she turns out to have looks as well as brains behind the glasses. Holly is another computer whiz and soon she and Michael aren’t just crunching codes but becoming a number.
Villain of the piece is jock Eddie Arch (Stewart Clarke). He thinks he’s the bee’s knees. He’s got the money, the car and the girl and a tycoon dad to provide him with a job, but his grades are bad—will dad deliver? With blackmail and bribes, he plots to claim the breakthrough that invents e-mail his.
The plot seems just a little too contrived and I didn’t come out whistling any songs; perhaps it is too obviously trying to appeal to those who lap up Grease and Glee. However, it bounces with joy and energy from the performers and it is carried by a design concept that makes the whole thing tongue-in-cheek.
Francis O’Connor’s set gives us a glittering background of circuit boards against which locations and properties are given a cartoon quality. They are drawn on spiral bond pads brought on by the performers which, flipped or reversed, make instant changes.
Just when this is in danger of becoming repetitive, he adds a quirky joke: a huge engagement ring, knocked-down bowling pins or the witty use of a cheesy visual gimmick when the breakthrough moment comes simultaneously in cyberspace and love.
This cartoonish element is carried through into the costumes: backpacks are actually drawn on and the clothes themselves, which closely reflect the look and cut of the time, are kept to bright colours and simple patterns that create clear-cut images.
The sound design follows the trend in musicals to amplify perfectly good voices to the point of distortion, but there is a smashing band under MD Jim Henson. The music may not be especially memorable, but it's fine for dancing and choreographer Nick Winston makes it wildly frenetic. He too knows just when to ring the changes to stop it becoming monotonous.
Under Stephen Dexter’s direction, even the scenery is carefully choreographed and there is some effective use of low-lit dancers as backing to some scenes. He does not ask for subtle characterisations but it is beautifully cast. Sidwell’s Michael has just the right mix of geekishness and charm and Clarke’s Eddie adds an evil gloss to his muscular good looks—there is no chance he’s going to win.
As one number puts it, these youngsters are looking for a “Ticket Outta Loserville”, but these youngsters all have such vitality you can’t imagine any of them as losers, except the villain Eddie.
Holly wants to be an astronaut, Lucas is writing science fiction, though someone says they see his story as a movie (a whole series maybe) and even chubby Marvin ends up with the school’s “Princess” Leia (Charlotte Harwood), even if her aspirations extend only to a big wedding and babies.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton