BIBLICAL musicals can work well. So welcome, The Prodigals:
A man had two sons, with contributions by multiple composers,
which imaginatively takes the story from Luke 15 and recasts it in
war-torn present-day Afghanistan.
The Father is here an officer from a family with a long
tradition in the British Army. Colonel Luke Gibson (the wonderfully
voiced Simon Bowman, a star of Les Misérables, Phantom
of the Opera, and Evita, who late in Part II shows us
what it really means to sing on stage) has two offspring. Cue
good/bad, black/white, elevated/fallen - except that the story
doesn't see it like that.
When the baby of the family, Kyle (Greg Oliver), abandons the
military (a good theme also well treated), his elder brother by
four years, Captain Mike Gibson (Sam Ferriday, appropriately dull
but effective), who is adjutant to their father in the same
regiment, cuts him off: black and white. But the father, as we well
know, will welcome the prodigal back and cherish him still.
I had many reservations about this show, about its claims to
address "big" issues (war, drugs), and the underwhelming quality of
the music. But that didn't stop it from having its own impact, and
in some departments it really excelled.
Sean Cavanagh's atmospheric, deliberately understated set
captures the oppressive military context and bunker mentality to
which this story of paternal love forms a striking contrast. Ben
Cracknell's lighting makes all the difference. The group
choreography by Natalie Murdoch yields some superb sequences; and
all the ensemble move, and sometimes dance, brilliantly - even
James William Marshall, the terrific Scots sergeant.
Three female Buttonses waft on and off like tempting
Rhinemaidens, luring the pop-star druggie to worse excesses: their
moves are stupendous - an immensely funny routine. Omari Bernard
("Disco", paired with "Beat", Jamie-Ray Hartshorne) is the nattiest
dancer/mover. But his companions do well, too.
So where is the flaw? When dance and music stop and dialogue
takes over. Here, Bowman, given an iffy script, is one of the
weaker links. Tension droops. The audience seemed to enjoy it
without being grabbed. The second half, which builds to
But, if verbally it sometimes flops, musically it flails. Sarah
Watson, as young Kelly Byrne, the pop-song aspirant killed by the
drugs that Kyle encourages her to take (a picture of Amy Winehouse
appears in the programme), strikes me as not much of a singer, or
at least a stage persona - yet. Greg Oliver, though brilliant at
being tossed around like a wet blanket, lacks charisma, and so
leaves a hole at the heart of the show.
Joe Harmston, who co-wrote with Ray Goudie, neither directs
sufficiently nor does enough to save dialogue and (worse) lyrics
that lack pace, intensity, and depth. All (not just some) of the
20-odd songs need arranging or orchestrating; for that aspect, when
it occurs, is tip-top. The musical content itself is a mishmash of
sentiment, to say no more.
At the Belgrade Theatre, Belgrade Square, Coventry, until
tomorrow. Box office: phone 024 7655 3055.