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The tunes are catchy and the voices are sweet and, while ‘glorious’ may be overstating things, unlike Eddie’s deal, a ticket to this show is more than worth the price paid.
We open on Eddie Small, a frustrated musician with dreams bigger than his work ethic, throwing a jealous tantrum in an East London club toilets as he watches his erstwhile friend take the stage. At this darkest point appears his personal Mephisto with a deal that promises him the success he feels is owed to him - but one with a terrible price. He takes it and the world is at his feet but, of course, nothing worth having is ever gotten easily and so starts the inevitable decline.
Performance-wise, the cast is solid. Sam O’ Hanlon makes an engaging Eddie whilst at no point feeling particularly sympathetic - a difficult balance to strike but one which seems right for the character. His chemistry with best friend Luke, played by Connor Arnold, is warm, whilst also subtly weaving in the seeds of an eventual rift on both sides.
As tour manager Jo Lean, Lizzie Bourne infuses her every scene with a subtle sense of dread and tension without ever needing to turn the crazy-dial up to eleven, while Eloise Kay as Leanne provides a suitably pure moral centre (though her relationship with Eddie is not sufficiently developed for its loss to feel like a major sacrifice to his ambition). Finally, Stanton Wright makes the most of his time on stage as a Stetson-and-spurs Devil, oddly incongruous when surrounded by Limeys in Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, but charismatic all the same.
Of course, the plot and the play are only half the story - what about the music? To be honest, it’s more thinly-spread than I’d have liked and less foot-thumpingly riotous than one might expect from a bluegrass musical. What songs there are are extremely polished though and in songs such as ‘Follow Me Boys’ the combined voices and instruments of the cast still make the Bedlam rafters ring.
The transposition of the story from blues to bluegrass and from America to England puts a new spin on this well-worn tale - though the breathless exhortation that Marcus Mumford (!) is on the phone still feels faintly comedic. The tunes are catchy and the voices are sweet and, while ‘glorious’ may be overstating things, unlike Eddie’s deal, a ticket to this show is more than worth the price paid.