Ushers: The Front of House Musical (Momentum Venues @ St Stephens: 5 – 30 Aug. 21.30: 1hr 20mins)

“Performed with real gusto and joy”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I find it very hard to review this show as I had quite high expectations in going in to see it. And while in some ways it was truly fantastic, in other areas it unfortunately missed the mark, however much I willed it to wow me.

For the most part, and especially in all the group songs, Ushers is performed with real gusto and joy. The opening number is slick, energetic and sets exactly the tone one would expect from an off West End hit. The smiles and precise choreography indicate a company that’s well rehearsed and clearly love what they’re doing.

Rory Maguire as Ben impressed me the most vocally, with a deliciously sweet high register for the power notes. Ben Fenner as Gary came across as the most real, displaying great emotional depth, while Alexandra Parkes was infectiously hilarious as Rosie.

Essentially Ushers has everything you could want in a musical: big chorus dance numbers, full of pizazz; emotional ballads; a complex, multi-layered six part showpiece song midway through; a love story; bags of humour and a dash of homoeroticism. For the musical theatre geeks amongst us there were several other small treats, in the form of creative references to other well-known shows. From the casual name drop, to that riff from the end of Defying Gravity there was plenty to smile about. Yet while a lot of the constituent parts were there, it seemed to be everything holding it together let the show down somewhat.

This may be partly due to the stage being so vast that the more intimate scenes got somewhat lost in it. Also, while the writing had a fairly decent plot (packed with laughs), some of the individual storylines were quite difficult to believe, so even though the cast acting were their hearts out, it occasionally came across as somewhat disingenuous. I lost count of how many times a character left the stage to “count programmes”, while the Theatre Manager was so outrageous it formed too much of a dischord with the rest of the action.

Unfortunately the performance I saw was blighted with a few technical failures in the sound department, but to give the actors their credit they ploughed on regardless and by the end of the show all was forgotten. Indeed the cast’s overall demeanour – from the way they ushered us to our seats when the house was open, to selling their own merchandise, and everything in between – was slick, professional and vivacious.

Overall I think the company did the best they could with what they had to work with, and anyone who loves their musical theatre or has ever worked as an Usher will really enjoy this show.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 August)