Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa’s John and Jen is a true masterpiece on what it means to be a family. Since its original Off-Broadway run in 1995, the musical had been long overlooked in the UK. However, 26 years later (and one 20th anniversary Off-Broadway run), John and Jen has finally arrived with a brand new updated version of the show at the Southwark Playhouse for its UK premier.
Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa’s show explores human nature in the truest form
The show is divided into two halves with the first act following the journey of John and Jen throughout their childhood years. Jen (Rachel Tucker) is the older of the two siblings and vows to protect her brother from any harm that comes his way – mostly driven by the physical abuse that their father causes to them and their mother. Like all siblings, there is the occasional fight and argument that is soon resolved by the love and bond they have for each other.
The second act follows the relationship between Jen as a mother to her son – named after her brother John (Lewis Cornay). The dynamic throughout this act follows Jen’s maternal instincts as she attempts to shield her son (much like she did her brother). However, her son begins to retaliate to this and becomes rebellious against her.
This updated version of John and Jen spans from 1985 to 2022 compared to the original run of 1952 to 1990. With some elements of the script updated for modern audiences, we watch Jen experience college in New York City by going to raves, dating boys and smoking pot compared to the original “hippy phase” throughout the 1960s. We also experience John growing up throughout the early noughties and deciding to join the army in the fight of the Afghan war. This allows these references to resonate with younger audiences and appeal to all who watch.
The chemistry between Tucker and Cornay is infectious from brother and sister to mother and son, they captivate the room and take us through the emotions of what it is like to experience sibling rivalry, motherly protection and family love. For many people this isn’t a performance, this is a trip down memory lane. This is the perfect adaptation of what it means to come from a family who are trying their best to survive. The majority of songs are sung together however each performer has their chance to shine and deliver flawless performances on their own. It is hard to remember that you are sitting in Southwark Playhouse, as the delivery of their songs makes it feel like a sell out show in the O2!
Rachel Tucker is utterly sublime in the role of Jen. Portraying Jen from the age of six to her adulthood, Tucker breaks the boundaries of acting as she transitions from child, rebellious teenager to over protective mother leaving audiences to question if there is anything that Tucker can’t do? Playing alongside Tucker is Lewis Cornay, an absolute star in his own right. Like his co-star, Cornay hits the mark on differentiating his characters as Jen’s brother and then Jen’s son. Cornay’s personality throughout is contagious and illuminates the room every time he is on stage. The pairing of Tucker and Cornay is a joyful harmony that is reason enough to purchase a ticket before the run ends.
John and Jen explores upsetting themes throughout the show but also allows elements of joy and humour in a perfect marriage. Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa’s show explores human nature in the truest form, that no matter how difficult or strenuous a situation may be, nothing is as unbreakable as a love between siblings or a mother and son.