Where can a small group of people be victims of a deadly plague, a tsunami, a poisonous spider bite, or an earthquake? That’s right, an Aussie soap! In this case, the fictional musical soap opera Summer Street. The show was a big hit in the 90s, finally bowing out when all bar one of its characters were wiped out; come 2003, the producers think that the time is right for a one-off reunion episode. A small pool of some of the show’s most well-known actors are invited back to take part, and hopefully revive their faltering careers – but is there something more sinister afoot..?
Andrew Norris’ show began life as a jukebox musical (using songs from the 80s and 90s), but it has since evolved into a brand new original musical – Norris also providing the music and lyrics. This current production has been on tour and now begins a limited run at Waterloo East Theatre.
Unfortunately, even going in with the mindset that it’s clearly meant to be a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun (not to be taken at all seriously) doesn’t really help. For starters, subtitling it “The Hilarious Aussie Soap Opera Musical” is an absolute clanger that sets it up to fall, as it would give even the most open-minded patron unreasonable expectations – what’s wrong with simply leaving it at ‘Summer Street’, anyway? Musicals really don’t need to have the word ‘musical’ anywhere in their names. For me, it barely raises a titter (the collection of ridiculous plotlines and deaths is the main saving grace), though amusement levels throughout the room did seem to vary considerably.
One of the main issues is that it’s incredibly repetitive. All of the songs outstay their welcome by at least one verse and chorus (if not more); they are pretty catchy, but the length of each one quickly makes them a bit annoying. Lucky Plucky Me is surely the worst offender – the Kylie reference wears thin halfway through the first chorus. There is also an odd tendency to have the singer quite static, while one or two others in the cast carry out some odd choreography – this actually makes things more puzzling rather than providing clarity. It strikes me as rather odd that (according to the programme) for the Brighton run five of the eleven songs were considered expendable, and reinforces my feeling that the songs aren’t actually a vital part of the storytelling – strange for a musical. Understandably the songs are performed with a backing track rather than live accompaniment; whilst this does mean that a bit of variety in sound can be achieved, musicals performed this way do tend to lose a little something.
The initial concept of the show is a reasonable one; it’s a bit of fun, allows different kinds of songs to be incorporated, and plays to a lower budget production (the actors having to double up, for example, is convincingly explained away). The spliff scene is seriously clichéd (as is its accompanying song), and I can’t understand why a couple of other characters would decide to have a cigarette if all they can/will do is embarrassingly pretend to light and smoke them. Just leave the cigarettes out of it! There is a point, as it meanders towards its conclusion, where it seriously loses its way; if Norris wanted to do some kind of social commentary, it would have been better to plant the seeds a little earlier – as it is, it’s like he drew an ending out of a hat and felt compelled to go through with it. Something less sinister is entirely achievable and far more in keeping with the rest of the show.
An energetic cast and an understated performance from Pogo the Summer Street dog are not enough to save this problematic show.
My verdict? A disappointing (and far from bonzer) new musical – an enthusiastic cast can’t undo the effects of repetitive songs and an ill-thought-out plot.
Summer Street runs at Waterloo East Theatre until 2 June 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.