Friday, 15 March 2019

Stage: Moonlight through a window

dir Steven Dexter
book/lyrics Barry Harman • music Keith Herrmann
Above the Stag, Vauxhall • from 15.Mar.19

Originally produced on Broadway in 1988, but writer Harmon has given this musical romantic comedy a twist with this production at London's Above the Stag. Like the National Theatre's acclaimed gender-swapped new production of Sondheim's Company, this show is now staged with an all-male cast, which adds some intrigue and resonance to its tangled plotlines.

The show is actually two musicals linked through a yearning for real love. The first act is The Little Comedy, set in early 20th century Vienna, where Valentin (Jordan Lee Davies) has become bored with his wealthy lover, and the playboy Alfred (Blair Robertson) is tired of a string of empty affairs. They meet when they're both pretending to be poor: Valentine posing as a butcher and Alfred as a poet. And they struggle to maintain the deception on a weekend in the country at a fleabag guesthouse far from the luxuries they're used to.

The second act is Summer Share, set in present-day New York as two couples go on holiday together in the Hamptons. Sam (Alex Lodge) and Jeremy (Ryan Anderson) are long-time friends who bring their husbands (Davies and Robertson) along with them. But over one long evening, Sam and Jeremy wonder why they never got together, and they begin to think that tonight might be the night something happens.

Davies & Robertson
Both halves of the show unfold in song with surreal touches. In the first, the story is told as a series of letters written by Valentin and Alfred to friends abroad, and their false identities are depicted by Lodge and Anderson in masks. In the second, Davies and Robertson appear as versions of their characters imagining what might happen if their husbands ever had an affair.

It's this element that brings Summer Share to particularly vivid life, as it adds a swirling range of emotionality to all four of the characters, making the songs much more intensely engaging and darkly moving. By contrast, The Little Comedy feels almost gimmicky, with its jaunty tone and lavish costumes. Although making these men gay does add a certain zing to the premise, which intriguingly echoes fake dating app profiles.

Lodge & Anderson
As always, the Above the Stag team outdoes itself with simple but effective sets, lighting and a superb on-stage orchestra. Performances are strong from all four actors, each of whom has a distinctively belting singing voice and plenty of stage presence. Although some of the songs are a bit of a challenge. In the first half, Davies steals the show with a lively, detail-filled turn that's continually hilarious. But it's Anderson's quietly devastating role in the second half that becomes the most memorable. His naturalistic performance vividly brings out the show's universal themes about love and lust, longing and loneliness, cutting through the absurdity of everyday life to take a much more complex look at love than most musicals dare.

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