Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

When Midnight Strikes

Book and lyrics by Kevin Hammonds, music by Charles Miller
Penny Rock Theatre Productions and Aria Entertainment present an Inner Circle Production
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Jessica Anne Ball as Josephina, John Hicks as Bradley, Victoria Croft as Zoe, Ashley Emerson as Christopher West, Lucyelle Cliffe as Murial, Tash Holway as Rachel, Sarah Harlington as Twyla and Miranda Wilford as Jennifer West
Sarah Harlington as Twyla. Miranda Wilford as Jennifer West, John Hicks as Bradley and (foreground) Ashley Emerson as Christopher West

This tuneful musical by New Yorker Hammonds and British composer Miller, first seen at the Finborough in 2007, is set in a smart SoHo loft on New Year’s Eve 1999.

Elegant Jennifer West and her husband Christopher are giving a party to welcome the new millennium. The guests may be full of good New Year—in an early number they rehearse their resolutions from dieting or stopping smoking to giving up sex with strangers, working out at the gym to being committed to a partner—but there’s trouble looming.

Christopher’s brother Greg wasn’t going to make it, but now he’s there and so is the girl he dumped by leaving a messsage on her answerphone. Jennifer’s sister Twyla turns up with two extra guests (are they both gay?). Worse, Jennifer has just discovered a note that alerts her to the fact that Chris is having an affair—and later, when they play charades, she matches the handwriting to that of one of the guests, though she doesn’t know which one.

As you might expect, the music carries much of the emotion of the piece which is touching, intriguing and sometimes hilarious. Joint directors Grant Murphy and Damian Sandys sometimes freeze the rest of the action as one character pours out their feelings, sometimes continuing it busily but soundless as someone sings exactly what they are thinking in contradiction to what they tell the others, as in the lively number “Shut Up!”.

As Christopher, Ashley Emerson is at his best in “Like Father Like Son”, a song that excuses his infidelities by blaming them on heredity. Sarah Harlington as Twyla sends up everyone in “We’re Here”, her jokey entrance number with John Hick’s Bradley, but delivers an emotional high of “You Know How to Love Me” which is then topped by Miranda Wilford’s beautifully poised perfect hostess suddenly lashing into her errant husband.

Newley Aucutt and Lucyelle Cliffe are side-splittingly funny when as insecure guest Ernest and neighbour Murial, who comes round to complain then locks herself out of her own apartment, suddenly get it together, escalating from nervous terror to Tristran and Iseult in just a few bars. Brother Greg (Tom Millen) shows some conscience in “A Jerk Like Me” as he realises how badly he treated Tash Holway’s now-sprightly Rachel, ravishing having shed pounds.

This is a strong cast including Victoria Court prancing around as a new age mystic, Stephanie Parker as an enigmatic Nicole (is she Chris’s lover?) and Samuel Parker as a red-haired smoothie who at some point says he has a plan (maybe it is him—I never discovered quite how he fits into things).

Highlight for me though was Jessica Anne Ball’s solo as Josephina, the hired-hand waitress at whom Jennifer cuttingly carps, “you haven’t had a role for seven years and still call yourself an actress.” “I Never Learned to Type” is a number that expresses the anguish of every struggling performer.

This isn’t a show with big production numbers but choreographer and assistant director Ellie Rutherford adds some lively movement and with MD Matt Ramplin on piano and Marta Tobar on cello you would think there was a full orchestra.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton