Ushers (Arts Theatre)

imageThis is the fourth outing for “Ushers: The Front of House Musical”. Starting life in the final four of @westendproducers ‘Search for a twitter composer competition’ in 2013, composer and lyricist Yiannis Koutsakos (taking a drastic career change after completing a Physics with Medical Physics degree at UCL) teamed up with lyricist James Oban and James Rottger (Book and additional lyrics) to create this off West End hit.
Previously it has played The Hope Theatre (December 2013), The Charing Cross Theatre (2014) and this year saw it take the Edinburgh Fringe by storm at The Momentum Venues @ St Stephens. It’s current incarnation sees it at The Arts Theatre Soho and from what I understand it has been tweaked and tightened and offers new aspects alongside the elements that have worked so well at previous outings.

Directed by Max Reynolds with Musical Direction by James Cleeve, “Ushers” tells the story of six front of house staff working the first preview night of yet another dreary jukebox musical. It highlights their highs and lows and their hopes and fears as they dare to dream of a life a little less ordinary than the world of hawking ice cream, programmes and second rate merchandise to the often ungrateful customer. Shown through the eyes of newbie ‘Lucy’ (Corinne Priest who offers a delicious high belt) “Ushers” is very neatly structured on top of the two Acts of the musical these, the stagiest of front of house staff, are working.

The comedy of the book is en pointe and incredibly relevant to a theatrical audience. Clever and current, it even added in a joke in regards to theatre news that had only been made public the day that I saw the show and the audience were in stitches.

Russell Smith’s choreography is adept and assured and I especially enjoyed the final number with its nod to ‘A Chorus Line’, so relevant in so many ways.
Designer Simon Wells does a very good job of concealing the set of “American Idiot” with a typical, yet flexible theatre foyer (the two shows are running in tandem in the main space at The Arts).
Special mention must go to Alexandra Parkes’ ‘Rosie’ who delivers some excellent physical comedy both in her hilariously performed number ‘Leading Men’ and throughout the piece.

One aspect of the production I found a little unharmonious was that, at times, some of the performances were too large for the relatively small stage at The Arts and as such, could be translated as insincere. The blossoming relationship between ‘Lucy’ and ‘Stephen’ (Cameron Sharp in fine voice) had some wonderful moments but, the theatrical convention of coming out of real time signified with a lighting change, in order to heighten certain aspects of their interaction didn’t quite work, as their story was often just as heightened in ‘reality’. The love story between ‘Gary’ (Ben Fenner) and ‘Ben’ (Rory Maguire) was beautifully touching and the most realistic of all, but as lovely as it was it didn’t sit comfortably within the already established exaggerated acting convention. However, this did not detract markedly from a very enjoyable night at the theatre, a night that will appeal to to a wide range of theatre goer not just the stagiest.
A word of warning though, don’t you dare be late when you go and see it, you may just regret it!

Reviewed by Byron Butler

Photo: John Hunter

“Ushers: The Front of House Musical” plays at The Arts Theatre in Soho until Sunday 18th October.