European Première of 'Rooms – A Rock Romance' showing until 18th May at the Finborough Theatre
'Rooms - A Rock Romance'
Review by Fiona Lister
Music, Book and Lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman
Book by Miriam Gordon
Directed by Andrew Keates
Must End 18th May 2013
Punk Rock has returned to London but when I say “Punk” I mean refined musical theatre Punk which branches into blues, harmonies and ballads played by a spectacular band.
Rooms – A Rock Romance is undoubtedly becoming a cult show that audiences are flocking to and returning to see. Indeed, last Saturday night the Finborough Theatre opened its doors to another full house with late theatregoers desperately queuing for seats. Anyone who loved The Boy George Musical ‘Taboo’ over at Brixton Club House recently will adore Rooms. The tickets are just £18 (and check for concessions) so you can take a party of guests and still have enough change in your pockets for dinner and after show drinks (there is no interval since it’s 80 minutes long and would break up the intensity). This is a far cry from the West End’s Jukebox musicals. It’s new, edgy, raw work and with more investment needs to be seen by a much wider audience. The powerful songwriting and the simplistic storyline makes this a show that young and older folk will follow and of course those who were born in the 1970s and 1980s will adore the Punk theme. Costume Designer Philippa Batt has added a dash of tartan, red and leather and the show’s stars Cassidy Janson and Alexis Gerred totally embrace and capture the era.
Arion Productions strives to find fresh, contemporary writing with unusual themes, a concept that is championed by multi-award winning director Andrew Keates (Arion’s Artistic Director and Founder) and Andrew Harmer, Co-Founder and Associate Producer. Since the company’s inception last year Arion Productions produced Martin Sherman’s Passing By (also at the Finborough Theatre) and Howard Goodall’s beautiful new musical A Winter’s Tale (Landor Theatre) which won Best New Musical in the 2013 OffWestEnd.com Awards. Arion Productions is due to produce As Is by William M. Hoffman later this year and other interesting lost and new gems are being considered for future productions.
Written by Paul Scott Goodman (Music, Book and Lyrics) and Miriam Gordon (Book) Rooms is a punchy, simple love story. Set in Glasgow, London and New York during the 1970s it follows the lives of two young band members who fall in love, form a punk group called The Diabolicals, travel the world and find passion, ambition and heartache. It’s a story full of heart, soul, comedy and tenderness which isn’t an easy combination to work with, particularly since there are two actors on stage throughout.
The casting by Benjamin Newsome is superb. Alexis Gerred is sensational as the young aspiring, reclusive songwriter and rock band musician Ian Wallace, a young lad who is pushed and moulded into seeking fame and fortune by his bossy ambitious friend Monica P. Miller. Gerred gives a sterling performance as a young Glaswegian guy who inevitably succumbs to the pressures of fame. Gerred is no stranger to the Punk era, having appeared in Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens (Churchill Theatre, Bromley, Studio). The promising young star trained at Kent Stage Academy of Performing Arts and is taking the West End and Off West End by storm. Many will remember him in the role of Bobby in Dreamboats and Petticoats (Playhouse Theatre and National Tour) and his other credits include: the title role in Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho (Trafalgar Studios), Fresher: The Musical (Pleasance Theatre); Prince Daniel in Sleeping Beauty (New Theatre, Cardiff), and Hotel S.A.L.I.G.I.A (Bloomsbury Theatre). Alexis Gerred was runner-up in Eurovision: Your Country Needs You.
Cassidy Janson blazes onto the stage as the feisty aspiring Scottish, Jewish red-headed singer/songwriter Monica P. Miller. Cassidy maintains a strong, dynamic performance throughout this 80 minute long production and there is fantastic choreography by Sam Spencer Lane. Together with her co-star Alexis Gerred she is on stage continuously and both Cassidy and Alexis switch effortlessly from one emotion to another. In particular, is her ability to conquer accents, thanks to voice and accent coach Sarah Stephenson who is also the show’s Assistant Director. Cassidy has completely perfected the accent and her overall performance is nothing short of award-winning. Cassidy has a string of theatre credits to her name including the role of Maggie in the 1930s Cleveland musical comedy Lend Me A Tenor which many of us want to see return to the West End. Cassidy’s other credits include: Miss Atomic Bomb (workshop at the Ambassador’s Theatre); Route to Happiness (Landor Theatre); Company (Southwark Playhouse); Bridget Jones: The Musical (workshop); Austentatious (Landor Theatre); Only The Brave (Edinburgh Festival), and most notably the role of Elphaba in the original London cast of Wicked (Apollo Victoria).
There are some incredibly powerful songs and emotional scenes but thanks to the skill of these bright actors and the director Andrew Keates, it’s kept as light-hearted as possible - the emotions are never over-egged and this makes the story more believable.
The production’s Musical Director Mark Warman together with Sound Designer Tom Lishman, Associate Musical Director Barney Ashworth and Singing Technician Robert Archibald, have pulled out all the stops to make this a power house rock musical. The Arrangements and Orchestrations by Jesse Vargas are exquisite. The songs are fresh, new and flow from rock to ballads to touching harmonies and melodies with a complete variation in style. The entire band are worthy of five stars themselves….and you will be dying to dance!
The Finborough Theatre houses a very small space so the production is perfect for a cast of two and it means that set design can be kept to a minimum. Philip Lindley has created a very simple idea by giving impressions of doorways and furniture – the frame not the door. Actors improvise by stepping into their surroundings: this production is testament to a work that holds up as a piece of musical theatre on its own merit without the expensive gloss of elaborate scenery, thanks to the excellent writing and skill of the actors and director. Director Andrew Keates has kept this scant on purpose – not just because of Off West End budgets but because the emphasis can then be placed entirely on the skill of the actors who are exceptional, particularly when the audience is within such close proximity to them. From the audiences’ perspective this works well as you become drawn into the story which might not happen if this production was housed in a very grand theatre – somewhere like the Fortune Theatre would be perfect for a West End run. Lighting Designer Neill Brinkworth gives a subtle touch to each scene which just shades and complements the wave of emotions. There are also some surprises in this production, such as American-British radio and television presenter Paul Gambaccini’s voice as the CBGB Announcer and Paul Kaye’s voice (Wreck Room Engineer). Nice touch.
Rooms – A Rock Romance makes for refreshing viewing amongst all the West End Jukebox musicals. Yes, it’s a rough diamond but what’s been achieved on a shoestring budget is remarkable. West End producers must take note and see more Off West End shows. The potential to develop this latest musical at the Finborough Theatre is huge and with more investment shows like Rooms could soar to much dizzier heights. Much more faith in new work is needed. Rooms is already proving to be a crowd puller, as well as providing a highly entertaining night out for anyone who loves musicals and new work. What you will see is a raw show – one that can be developed, but nevertheless a quality production boasting exceptional talent.
Five Stars based on the sheer merit of the actors, band, writers and director and for the Finborough for recognising this work and commissioning the musical. Rooms – A Rock Romance must end 18th May 2013. Don’s miss out!
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