The latest new musical gracing the stage at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Off West End hub of St James, is Exposure the Musical. From the mind of Mike Dyer, it revolves around young photographer Jimmy Tucker as he follows in his father’s footsteps and gets drawn into the shady world of London.
Exposure has been in the works for the past 12-15 years, starting out almost three times as long, according to director Phil Willmott – and I’m afraid this chopping down really shows. Whilst you obviously couldn’t have a musical (or play) that runs to six hours, trying to fit a feasible story into two hours and adding a 20-minute interval just doesn’t work. It feels a bit confused in terms of what story it wants to tell. One fragment is slightly overdeveloped, whereas the rest needs to be given more stage time. It spends a relatively long time introducing Jimmy’s father (even bizarrely having Jimmy sing to him from the womb), which then leaves little time for all of the other strands to develop at a natural pace. The blurb in all of the promotional material focuses on the ‘seven deadly sins’ commission, but when it comes to it, this is dealt with in a single song and resorts to using a deus ex machina to force the story into an early conclusion.
The problem stems from there being a fundamental lack of balance between script & song. It seems to launch from one set-piece to another with very little in the way of meaningful dialogue – some of the songs do enhance the storytelling (for example, Eyes Of The World & Bandit Country), but they can’t do the job alone. The dialogue mostly feels like an after-thought, with a lack of depth. A good musical isn’t just about the songs.
And they also need to be in the right order; an introductory song should be performed when that character is first met, for example. However, Miles Mason is the act two opener, though he appears about halfway through the first act. (It also includes an excruciatingly cringeworthy lyric, “I get a stiffie from that name” – which is repeated a seemingly endless number of times.) The best song in the show, Rainmaker, should be the triumphant group finale, but its main iteration is performed by Jimmy & Tara, before being briefly reprised by the company after their bows. It has gorgeous harmonies & is packed full of soul, so it’s a shame to see it butchered in this way.
It has been billed as a rock musical, so it is refreshing that it’s attempting to live up to its genre by being extremely loud. Whilst I do appreciate this (shows like American Idiot could learn a lot from its volume levels), the balance between music & microphones isn’t quite there. This does seem to happen a lot at musicals of this type, I’ve found, but for a new musical it is imperative the audience can hear every single word clearly.
As expected, it is visually stunning; from Lindon Barr’s dynamic & varied choreography, to Timothy Bird’s virtual set. The projections feature a wealth of Getty’s iconic images, as well as some choice lyrics during the odd song. It is a bit busy at times, however, and doesn’t really marry with the lighting design (Ben Cracknell) – the spotlights cast the actors’ shadows onto the set, taking any illusion away, and occasionally attempts to blind the audience with pink & blue light.
The ensemble is packed full of outstanding dancers & some great vocalists (Lauren Stroud’s high riff in the reprise of Rainmaker is incredible). There is quite a lot of doubling up, but the costume changes are significant enough to make this work.
Michael Greco is charismatic as Miles Mason, and is also quite playful with the role – particularly when the show takes its more fantastical turn… His accent is a bit confusing at times (mostly American sounding, but sometimes others slip in), but his entertaining performance makes up for this.
David Albury (Jimmy) really shines when he is given the chance to sing, as he has a voice full of soul that really chimes with the music & the mindset of his character. Considering his character is supposed to be the focal point of the show, he isn’t given many more memorable moments than that.
For me, the best performance comes from Natalie Anderson as Irish runaway Tara. Her accent is spot on, she has perfect comic timing & her singing is absolutely stunning. Anderson invigorates every scene in which she features, giving it some much-needed positive moments.
My verdict? A show that doesn’t live up to its considerable potential – some good songs & visuals, but a decent musical needs more than that.
Exposure the Musical runs at the St James Theatre until 27 August 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.