The Opinion Makers

Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon
Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Derby Theatre
Derby Theatre

Mel Giedroyc as Lassiter in The Opinion Makers Credit: Robert Day

Getting a new musical onto the stage can be a huge undertaking. Producers either have to spend millions of pounds and hope to recoup their investment or work to a strict budget, keeping the number of performers to a minimum.

So congratulations to the Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Derby Theatre who are behind Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon's new comedy musical The Opinion Makers which had a two-week run in Essex followed by a ten-day run in the East Midlands.

The Opinion Makers has a small cast backed by a four-piece band. It means that the numbers are shared out between the actors who need strong, confident voices when they're thrust into the spotlight. Not all of them are known for their singing ability, which becomes evident as the evening progresses.

Even though the musical has had only a limited run in Derby, it seemed a tired performance on the night I saw it. The cast couldn't be faulted for their enthusiasm but the production lacked sparkle, there were few laughs from a relatively small audience and most of the songs were instantly forgettable.

The Opinion Makers is set in London in the swinging '60s. Staff at the Fernsby Market Research Company are given the task of rebranding a product called Doctor Campbell's Lotion because sales figures have stayed the same for more than a decade.

The company decides to change the product's name—an unwise move which potentially has disastrous consequences.

Much of the pre-publicity for the show surrounded the casting of The Great British Bake Off presenter Mel Giedroyc in the role of Lassiter, the secretary who lusts after her boss. She’s one of the few successes of the production, having the funniest lines and proving that she can hold a tune particularly well.

Julie Atherton admirably belts out her numbers and gives a solid portrayal of Mrs Campbell, the American gold-digger who wants to get her hands on her husband's money.

David Mounfield is more impressive as upper-class English Tory MP Donaldson than he is as the Scottish businessman Campbell.

Parts of The Opinion Makers are okay but Mitchell and Nixon's script seems full of stereotypes and inconsistencies. For instance, Campbell is a miserly Scot while Daniel Boys's Abramowitz is a hippy prone to announcing how everything is "groovy". Yet surprisingly Justin Edwards who plays Fernsby is a gangly, awkward-looking, charisma-lacking executive who is far from the usual media agency boss.

The Opinion Makers does have its good points: one of the songs, "Genericised Brand", in which Donaldson moans about how certain trade names such as Sellotape have come into general use, is particularly clever.

But overall The Opinion Makers gives the impression that it's very much a work in progress. Director Daniel Buckroyd tries to make the most of the production but occasionally resorts to getting his cast to give an over-the-top performance in a bid to produce laughter.

On hearing the number that closes the first half, I wondered whether the cast had taken on board the refrain: "How did I get involved in this?"

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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