Lauren Brewer and Will Geraint Drake’s The Single Lady is a musical extravaganza, giving Elizabeth I the same treatment that Hamilton did to the Founding Fathers. Incredibly upbeat and full of fun wordplay and historical references, The Single Lady is completely unmissable.
Based on historic events and set after the mysterious death of Robert Dudley’s (Olly Stanton) wife, Elizabeth I (Lucie Fletcher) is forced to make a choice about whether to embrace the scandal of her and Dudley’s relationship or keep her crown. However, things become complicated when Dudley decides to court her cousin and best friend, Lettice Knollys (Emily Phillips).
Drake’s music is incredible, ranging from ballads to raps that are full of rich harmonies and competing melodies that are enjoyable to listen to as the story is revived. Combined with Lauren Williams’ choreography, the show takes on a semblance of grandeur, particularly noticeable during the song Destiny’s Bride, which is amplified with the inclusion of traditional Elizabethan choreography. Modern references are weaved throughout, and they are so seamlessly placed within the songs, that it doesn’t grate. The lighting design lets the production down, not taking advantage of some of the more powerful and dramatic moments within the score. This is especially noticeable during Elizabeth’s 11 o'clock song I am the Queen, a song which speaks to the conflict at the heart of this show.
There are some problems with the book. Firstly, despite the fact that this is a story about Elizabeth I, an incredibly powerful and inspiring historical figure, there are moments that come close to relying on out-of-date portrayals of women. Firstly, the show’s conflict is partly reliant on Elizabeth’s and Lettice’s competition and disagreement over a man, despite their shared history. Not only is this juvenile, but it shows women tearing each other down in an incredibly jealous and catty way. Secondly, Lettice’s character for most of the show is rooted in a misogynistic archetype of the Whore. As the seemingly ‘other woman’ we are encouraged to hate this character for no other reason than that she slept with someone the main character liked.
From her incredibly powerful belt that appears to have the potential to fill a much larger space, to her ability to give new life to Elizabeth, Fletcher carries this show. Phillips’ interpretation of Lettice provides us with new insight into a historical figure that most of us won’t know much about. Despite how we are first introduced to the character, Phillips manages tactfully to subvert our initial assumptions and turn Lettice into an incredibly sympathetic character. Going further, the relationship between Elizabeth and Lettice could be developed more, as we mostly see them interact when they are in a state of conflict with each other. Whilst this works for the current iteration of this musical, we lose any emotional response we may have when the relationship breaks down because we don’t aren’t familiar of the extent and depth of the relationship, and so don’t know the cost when it is lost.
Despite its flaws, The Single Lady has a solid score with a book that can hopefully be erased of its problems before it is taken any further. Residing somewhere between Hamilton and Six, this musical is one for the history books.