“No one dreams of becoming an Usher!” Cry the desperate stars of Ushers: The Front Of House Musical, as they face up to yet another night of flogging ice creams and programmes to London’s oblivious theatre-goers. Maybe not, but after an evening watching the cast hurl themselves through this no-time-to-breathe-because-you’re-laughing-so-hard humdinger of a show, that might all be about to change.
There are some cracking one-liners and the wit is razor sharp and so topical the writers must sit up every night with a copy of Stage and scan the news.
Ushers tells the story of, well, the ushers; the unsung heroes of theatres everywhere who have to sit through one ghastly jukebox musical after another (It’s opening night for “Opps I Did It Again: The Britney Musical” as the productions begins, coming soon is “Twice: As Irish as a Leprechaun Dancing in a Field of Guinness Soaked Shamrocks”) while harbouring dreams of stardom that grow more distant with every bag of upsold Chrunchie Rocks and battling a villainous theatre manager who’s more Javier than Fiyero.
At its heart (and it’s a big heart, although it hides behind barbs and jabs that can only be born out of bitter experience) Ushers is a love-letter to West-End theatre. It is tinged with that uniquely British nostalgia for the bad times because, yes, they were bloody terrible, but at least we were all in it together! And the cast understand that. Like really understand that. You can feel the suppressed resentment and simmering anger in their manic smiles as they wave around torches like interrogation spotlights, on the lookout for that one idiot who’s attempting to smuggle in a Nando’s ¼ chicken to eat during the interval. You believe they have been ushers, that they are ushers, and that’s what makes the whole production gel.
Ushers is at its best when it’s being funny. There are some cracking one-liners and the wit is razor sharp and so topical the writers must sit up every night with a copy of Stage and scan the news. Sitting in the audience, especially the type of audience that goes to a show like this, that counts for a lot. The writers of Ushers know their audience; know that they can make veiled theatrical references and they will be understood, know that we have all recently been ‘there’ or are perhaps still there now, working minimum wage jobs while knowing we trained for better, know you can name a character Sir Andrew Lloyd Macintosser and bring down the house. And fair play to them, when it works it really works.
Where the production falters however, is when things try and get serious. To jump from lines such as “you’ll be out of work quicker than the cast of From Here To Eternity” to a character suddenly standing on stage belting out a heartfelt lament to dashed hopes and dreams was a bit too much for me. I kept waiting for the sly wink to the audience, the punchline that never appeared until the next big group number. I admire a production that gives every cast member their moment in the spotlight (every character has their own solo) but those were by far the weakest parts of the production. Ushers would benefit from deciding on a tone and sticking with it, the audience is too caught up in the satire to care about ‘real issues’.
So, is this a slick, flawless production to bring your out-of-town relatives to? No, go see Les Mis. Is it a big-hearted, straight shooting, nudge nudge wink wink to London’s West End and all who abide in it? Heck yes! Encore please!