The Landor Theatre had a big hit last year with Ragtime, Lynna Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s musical adaptation of E L Doctorow’s attempt at the Great American Novel. That show, which featured a cast nearly as big as the Landor’s maximum audience size, won some well-deserved Off West End Awards. And now, the Landor’s creative team has attempted another Ahrens and Flaherty musical, creating the European premiere of The Glorious Ones.
With a much smaller cast, set in Renaissance Italy and based on a novel by Francine Prose, the Glorious Ones are a ragtag band of commedia dell’arte street performers, a group of archetypes who are more or less indistinguishable from the masked roles they play on stage.
Right from the off, Kate Brennan’s rambunctious ex-courtesan Columbina stands out both physically (and I’m not just talking about her impressive décolletage) and vocally, bringing a warm, slightly fractured humanity to the entire production. Her second act solo, My Body Wasn’t Why, is one of the highlights of the show.
Elsewhere among the cast, David Muscat deserves special credit for taking on the role of Dottore with just days’notice, after the original cast member suffered a back injury. Both he and Jodie Beth Meyer as the diminute Armanda provide a light comic touch that is pitched just right for the piece, while Anouska Eaton and Christopher Berry delight as the young couple whose rising popularity has an effect on both the older troupe members, who have to face up to the fact they’ve become too old to play the romantic leads, as well as signifying the changing public taste away from improvised comedy to scripted performance.
The weak link in the cast is, unfortunately, also the leading role. The script and lyrics suggest that troupe leader Flaminio Scala is a charismatic leader who enthralls the other characters to join his troupe, inspiring love from Columbina and Armanda, and becoming a father figure to Berry’s Francesco. Unfortunately, Mike Christie, making his musical theatre debut after several years in operatic tenor boyband G4, lacks the necessary experience to pull those character traits off. He also has a tendency to audibly – noisily – aspirate throughout. In a larger auditiorium that would be annoying: in the Landor’s limited space, shrunk even more by Martin Thomas’ beautiful, minimal set of backlit gauze and the stage-upon-a-stage setting, it threatens to overshadow everything else.
That it doesn’t is testament to the parts of the whole working so well together. The five piece band, working to new orchestrations by Niall Bailey, provide a beautiful sound, and the set and costumes add much to the atmosphere.
As with many new musicals, I found myself unable to recall individual melodies shortly after the closing curtain. But that doesn’t stop The Glorious Ones from being one of the most enjoyable new musicals in a long while, and providing yet another delightful evening in the Landor’s history of great musicals.
The Glorious Ones runs until April 7. For more details visit landortheatre.co.uk.