In this offering from the American High School Musical Theatre Festival, Shakespeare’s text is revamped into a slick news room in a specially commissioned work from Chris Wynters. The Duke is now the station chief, the monks are now lawyers, and the nuns are now… Sexy nuns. The question asked of us baldly in the programme is: ‘If you believe the truth must be told, what measures are you prepared to take?’ In pursuit of the story, this journalist may have to tread on a few young toes.
The cast was led by the fast-talking manager played by Dominik Buconjic, who bustled around with great comic energy and gave us a few genuine laughs. There was no need for him to sing however, his character and the show could have done without. Surely Wynters could have foreseen the eventuality that a school production would have an excellent young actor who would have fared better without sung solos? That’s not to say that this production didn’t have its share of fine voices – Josh White as star reporter Claude Bijou gave some solid tenor moments, and Hannah Smart as Isabella wowed with her emotively powerful alto belt. My personal favourite was Nadine Cordery who took the role of Davina the sassy secretary and made it her own.
As a concept, this show works fine. I even buy into the thinly-veiled attack on the American Republican-Hawkish-Evangelical conflation. The opening sequence was punchy, stylish, modern, and genuinely interesting. However, as the musical progressed, Wynters as writer and Karen Towsley as director became too strongly tied to youth musical theatre tradition and to the Shakespeare original. Gone was the moodily stylized choreography, reminiscent of Ghost, and in its place came distractingly poor backing-singer hand gestures. Gone was the energetic and direct news-speak, and in its place came stodgy verbatim Olde English.
The less said about the sexy nuns (‘Tempters’ in the cast list) the better. I saw this show before noon and was ill-prepared for writhing twelve-year-olds. That said, at its best this musical is spectacular and thought-provoking. Frustratingly, it is slick and slack in equal measure.