REVIEW: REPUTATION (The Other Palace) ★★

It is always exciting to see a new musical in development and be asked to form a view on whether it is ready for a full staging in the West End or on Broadway. It is a long journey from conception, to draft script and score, workshop try-outs to selected guests and then onto a full staging to a public audience . Reputation is such a musical, written by Alick Glass and his daughter Suzanne and gets its first public outing at The Other Palace. As with any new script, there are always accidental and deliberate references to shows that have gone before and this new musical deals with plagiarism in Hollywood and inevitably (while watching) you compare it to previous musicals.

This a rather straightforward story of American conman Freddy Larceny, who places an advert in a newspaper to attract new scripts and then steals the writer’s ideas and passes them off as his own to a Hollywood Studio. One gets nominated for an Oscar and therefore comes to the attention of the author who is a young American girl, in a finishing school, in Paris. With the help of a wealthy unseen father who only “appears” at the other end of the phone or in an off-stage fleeting appearance, Michelle sets out to prove it is her script.

The conman Freddy is played with great stage presence and character by Jeremy Secomb and he steals the show, although as the narrator he appears only infrequently and spends far too long sat upstage in a director’s chair facing the rear wall! However, when he is given a chance to sell a song and present his evil side, he does it very well as in “Paranoia” and then channels his Dean Martin in “Don’t mess with Freddy”. His role could easily be developed so we see more interaction with the other characters as when he is first confronted by Michele in a New York Hotel and dismisses her claim.

Maddy Banks plays the original writer of The Page, Michelle who responds to an ad and sends $20 and the script to his office. She has a pleasant voice and is well supported by her friend Mary played by Lauren Ingram who travels to the USA with her. Their fellow students in Paris, Charlie Dennis, Ashleigh Cavanagh and Eleanor Tollan are given some simple dance routines by the choreographer, Tamsyn Salter and are joined by her in the best routine, the opening number of Act 2, “Laydeez” in which she injects some much-needed comedy into the routines. The relationship between the students and the teacher could have been developed more in the multiple dormitory, classroom and college scenes. Priscille Grace plays a French actress/singer Jacqueline in a rather underdeveloped role which seems just an excuse for a Edith Piaf style number. Michelle falls for a young lawyer who seeks to help her in a dreadfully underwritten and dull part called Archie performed by Ed Wade.

Cory Peterson plays the Judge, called in to rule whether the Oscar film is based in her original idea and speaks the lines in the song “Just look at the facts” and is curiously dressed in a graduation gown. I was reminded of the court scene in Legally Blonde where Elle turns the case on an obscure fact.

The Musical Director, Warren Hills, also directs the concert style presentation, accompanied by double bassist Jordan Brown and they occasionally interact with the performers. The music is light and easy on the ear but does not linger in the memory long, although we sometimes appear to hear phrases of music from other songs such as the 1966 song “Bring Me Sunshine” made famous by Morecambe and Wise and the chorus of “No business-like Show Business”

The presentation is restricted by the small studio space (and a handful of props) and the focus is on the songs themselves. Whether a more developed script will emerge, with less reliance on exposition and narration and more interaction, character development, stronger tension between the male dominated studios and courts of the thirties and the young ladies seeking to break through, we will have to wait for the next iteration.

This has the feel of work-in-progress and while the basic idea of plagiarism offers an interesting opportunity for parody and tribute to fuel the debate, at this stage the plot is weak, the music is unexceptional and despite the best efforts of the cast and MD, failed to sustain our interest for the two-hour running time. We need more new musicals and I hope that these composers will continue to develop their ideas and bring back a refreshed version in the future .

Reviewed by Nick Humby


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