The inaugural show – by American composer and lyricist Michael John LaChiusa – premiered on Broadway in 2000 and is based on a 1920’s narrative verse poem. It’s a no holds barred mix of sex and violence, drink and drugs, as not as young as she once was showgirl Queenie and her dangerously abusive lover Burrs (a strong John Owen-Jones) decide it’s time to have a party – and what a prohibition era party it is with guests cavorting in the bath as well as on the bed and getting it on every which way they possibly can. Yet beneath the uninhibited abandon, the fake fronts and the reckless lack of restraint there’s an empty bleakness, the disappointment of dreams turned sour and the prospect of pointless futures.
LaChiusa’s pastiche jazz age music isn’t exactly hummable, and with so many characters to get to grips with, the initial series of vaudeville style sketches feels disconnected. But things start to gel by the time the coke-rimmed bath tub appears and the party (hectically choreographed by director Drew McOnie) is in full swing. And there’s much to admire along the way – notably Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea as cross-dressed “brothers” Oscar and Phil – as slinky, synchronised and supple as cats, and Frances Ruffelle’s heavily made up Queenie delivering the regretful “People Like Us” with a gigolo called Black (Simon Thomas) whose own “mask” is a pristine white suit.
St James, Palace Street, SW1E 5JA
Until 1st April 2017