USHERS is a bright new musical from Kouban Productions with a book by JAMES ROTTGER. Centred around 5 ushers and their overbearing manager, there are enough in-jokes to please anyone who has ever worked front-of-house, but not so many that non-industry folk would be put off.
It is opening night of a new jukebox musical, ‘Oops! I Did It Again’, based on the songs of Britney Spears and starring Marti Pellow as Kevin Federline and Michael Ball as Britney’s mum. Ben (LIAM ROSS –MILLS), Gary (WILL JENNINGS), Stephen (ROSS MCNEILL) and Rosie (CHLOE BROOKS), four long-standing ushers, are joined by Lucy (ABIGAIL CARTER-SIMPSON), a newcomer to their ranks and their “spend-per-head” obsessed supervisor, Robin (RALPH BOGARD).
Two very different romantic relationships play out in front of us. Ben and Gary have been together for three years but now face a 12-month separation. By contrast, Lucy and Stephen have only just met and their encounters provide one of the several recurring jokes of the show, with dramatic lighting and intense music highlighting the instant attraction – a clever dig at the intensity and speed of on-stage relationships.
YIANNIS KOUTSAKOS’ score is visioned and exciting, with catchy numbers and a particularly touching duet between Ben and Gary. Lively and exciting choreography from RUSSELL SMITH and GEMMA FULLER complements the score perfectly.
The cast are energetic and engaging, and carry their roles with ease. Will Jennings is an excellent Gary, and the duet mentioned earlier shows off his voice beautifully. Chloe Brooks is a very talented comic actor with a classic musical theatre voice.
Ross McNeill is an exceptionally strong and believable performer, as is Abigail Carter-Simpson. McNeill’s fine voice is showcased perfectly in his solo number, and Carter-Simpson’s has a beautiful quality that left me wanting more. As fairly recent graduates, they are both well worth watching out for in the future.
Ralph Bogard plays the power-hungry supervisor, Robin, with conviction and he leaves us in no doubt that he can belt out, and hold, a tune. Unfortunately, his character has the one part of the production which really doesn’t work – his training sessions add little to the story, and the word definitions which follow are rather demeaning to an intelligent audience. Although tiresome, these interruptions are blissfully short, and we soon return to a plot which stands perfectly well without them.
However, the stand-out performance of the night, for me, came from Liam Ross-Mills. His vocals had a slightly dodgy start on the evening I attended, but he soon found his voice and lifted it to something quite delightful. He performs with an intense vulnerability, stealing the show – difficult task amongst such a talented cast.
Ushers is the first production in the brand-new Hope Theatre, a 50-seat performance space above the Hope and Anchor pub in Islington. Exclusively committed to showcasing new writing, the Hope Theatre opens with an Equity agreement already in place to ensure all performers and stage managers are paid an approved rate, something that disturbingly few small-scale fringe theatres have.
Ushers is a great show performed exceptionally well with a lively and entertaining score, and should be a must-see for any musical theatre worker or fan this month.
Ushers: the Front of House Musical plays at the Hope Theatre until 30 December. Tickets £15 from www.thehopetheatre.com