In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, a new “underground” style of musical theatre started to develop in America away from the mainstream styles of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Boublil & Schoenberg and Stephen Sondheim that had dominated the recent Broadway seasons. This new style mainly focused itself on strongly connecting the audience to the songs by using accessible subjects about the complexities and trials and tribulations of real life, relationships and emotions. The lyrics were usually witty and extremely conversational, and the music was more often than not quirky with complex rhythms and harmonies. Unfortunately, this also meant that the writing turned into self-indulgent, too cool for school, shallow and vapid songs that were perfect for small cabarets, open mic nights and college showcases but could rarely get any deeper than the odd swear word or contemporary reference to make it seem relevant. The songs stood by themselves without any connection to one another, and because they were all so “different” to mainstream, they all ended up sounding the same. Teams of writers started to pop up all over the place with their “new” takes on love, heartbreak, jealousy, love, divorce, happiness, commitment, love, love and love.
EDGES is a song cycle (not a musical as advertised) written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who are one of the few teams to actually break it past a simple, home produced album. They have recently had small hits with their musicals Dogfight (seen recently at the Southwark Playhouse), James and the Giant Peach and A Christmas Story, as well as contributing a few songs to the flop TV series Smash. Song cycles are a generally a collection of songs that have a theme running through them – think Dichterliebe and Winterreise as examples. EDGES seems to have been scrapbooked together as a song cycle post-composition using songs that have the themes mentioned above. Thankfully, this piece is one of Pasek and Paul’s first efforts together and have created better and more cohesive work since.
According to the Director’s Notes, Jordan Murphy and Producer Michael Auger (of X-Factor’s “Collabro” fame) have attempted to run some sort of narrative through this production, but unfortunately the disjointed nature of the material deems a fruitless achievement with any connections feeling forced and jarring. It also seems the actors have been significantly under-rehearsed and under-directed leaving them stranded centre stage, seated at a park bench or strangely enough, on the floor (which is a big no-no in a venue with raked seating).
The cast have various moments when they shine, particularly Chris Barton in “Part of a Painting”, Robert Woodward in “I Once Knew”, Lauren Allen in “Man of My Dreams” and Claudia Kariuki in “Like Breathing”. The ensemble singing and harmonies are very tight (kudos to Musical Director Tom Lee) but there are a few shaky moments and strident singing in solos. A highlight was “Be My Friend”, which did the YouTube rounds as “The Facebook Song”.
An odd and quite unclear choice by this creative team was to use part of the set from LTW’s extremely successful production of Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade” which ran immediately prior to this season. It seems also clear that the lighting design hasn’t been altered much either due to certain cast members being poorly lit in quite literal on/off lighting states. The only comment to make about the costuming was that Claudia Kariuki looked like she’d just arrived straight from or heading to a yoga class.
This is the inaugural production from Peak Productions, created by Michael Auger (from Collabro as mentioned previously) to “give back to the industry”. Whilst this is admirable in intent, perhaps he would have made a better impact by having a more experienced creative team and chosen a better show than this bland, unremarkable and dated piece with nothing we haven’t heard before.
Reviewed by Richard Kindermann
Edges is playing at the London Theatre Workshop until 1 October 2015. Click here for tickets