At a college songwriting class in Chicago, an end-of-year competition involves the students performing each other’s anonymous submissions for a celebrity guest judge. It’s like no contest I’ve ever heard of in real life, and there’s something gloriously petty about the characters’ investment in it – it’s all very musical theatre dahling. The book writers seem uncomfortable to leave it that, however, rather feebly upping the stakes by repeatedly emphasising that the prize is five thousand dollars until it takes on shades of RuPaul’s ‘one hundred thousand dollars’ catchphrase.
There’s a lot of interesting material here which could be reworked into something more coherent.
Although a jarring final act pulls the story into much darker territory, Creatives is so bursting with ideas that it’s hard to identify a meaningful thematic throughline. Each student embodies a different stereotype, because musical theatre dahling and this competitive song-swapping has the potential for these to be explored in interesting ways. Insta-famous in particular was an interesting attempt at updating When You've Got It, Flaunt It from The Producers for the Kardashian age. Sex tapes can pay for mortgages now, though I feel obliged to point out that most of them do not.
The cast really sell what they’re given, which is particularly impressive in the case of Jay Cullen as a sort-ofgay village-idiot character and Zoe West as a fake-left butch lesbian. In a way, it’s refreshing to see unlikable portrayals of gay people in a musical. Singing is strong across the board – with Vasily Deris and Martina Isibor standing out for their great voices – though the music and lyrics they sing are mostly unmemorable.
Tyler Fayose is truly magnificent as Sean O’Neil, an obnoxiously smooth, white-friendly hiphop bro. His opening number, On the South Side, is a good parody of vacuous, white-friendly hiphop.
Omar Baroud portrays the festering resentment of the nominal lead with sensitivity, and he really comes alive when singing, but his characterisation was ultimately lost among the more heightened musical-esque performances around him. Though not as lost as one cast member, who kept delivering lines with their back to the audience.
Creatives is billed as a ‘dark, comic pop opera’, which makes it sound like a slightly abstract musical about advertising executives. It is none of those things. It certainly isn’t an opera, nor is it reliably comic, and its lack of focus undermines any darkness. There’s a lot of interesting material here which could be reworked into something more coherent, but in the meantime the show is being propped up by the talents of its hardworking cast.