Never mind a life, what about a gag?

Preview by Paul Nelson

A TALENTED pair of writers who graduated from revue to full length book musicals, but always managed to keep with them their original funny look at life, once wrote a musical in which they had the leading characters turn up in a nightclub where the floor show consisted of songs written by a musical dentist. Lyrics with lines like 'You don't see a thing, but it hurts', 'Your kiss is novocaine' and finally 'The Midas Touch' a song about the cost of gold fillings, lightened the evening.

I am not talking about the authors of Hey, Get A Life! but of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose show Bells Are Ringing was another big hit on Broadway and in London for them.

As if that show had never happened, nor the lessons from that sketch learned, the musical at the Jermyn Street Theatre has taken the dentistry theme, this time a family of dentists, who have collectively written a book on how to achieve self-help in your life, career, health, relationships, etc. etc. We must all have just such a book on our shelves; How to Get Ten Percent Off Absolutely Everything springs to mind. It is a genre that goes down a well-worn path.

Unfortunately, the new show at the Jermyn Street Theatre is exactly what Comden and Green found out the hard way, one revue sketch may help the evening along but does not make a complete evening in the theatre. In addition, this is supposed to be a comedy musical, but you won't get RSI from laughing, the gags are rare.

The Urlacher Family, Banks, Devora and Grace, have written a show around themselves for the sole purpose of plugging their book. The night we witness their unctuous evening of bonhomie one of their number does a runner (and I for one was not surprised) and the assistant stage manager Trevor Winterburn, is cajoled into playing his part.

The first series of jokes are derived from Trevor's cack-handedness in appearing for the first time in front of the public.

The sketch however has to be padded out, so part of the dentists' show consists of public self-confession. Grace had bulimia, Devora was an alcoholic, Banks was - well he doesn't want to mention that.

When Trevor wants to sing all the songs belonging to the part he is playing is when the spit hits the fan. Banks turns into a monster, the act falls into ruin and an interval is called.

In the second half the characters of Grace and Devora become defined (at last, I gasp) and they are given something to do other than loudly shout out the praises of the book (see the title of the show) and at last they get a chance to shine.

The glaring fault of the book of this musical is not that it takes so long to get moving -the entire first act - but that sprinkled around the stultifying plot there is a lot of talent which doesn't get a chance to strut its stuff.

The book has the effect of a toothache. Its teething problems have never been attended to and decay sets in at an early point in the proceedings. I could go on but there are enough references to surgery, diseases, bodily functions, and torture to fill a reference book. What it lacks is laughing gas.

Part of the talent that abounds but is swamped is some of the really good music and to a certain extent a large portion of the lyrics, but as each line is hammered the gap in the show that is crying out to be filled one begins to realise, is heart. Occasionally it gets touched on by Trevor, played most delightfully by a natural clown from whom you cannot take your eyes, but then all the sentiment is shamefully ignored or used to fuel yet another grim joke.

The show is badly in need of a harsh culling and the director would do well to get a proper job.

Still, I cannot help but strongly commend the girls who along with Trevor have a good deal to do with what enjoyment actually crosses to the audience. They are in good voice and look stunning.

Hey, Get A Life! a musical with book and lyrics by Jonathan Kydd, music by Simon Chamberlain. Directed by John Peters, Musical Director Simon Chamberlain, Designer Jan Spoczynski, Lighting by Mike Robertson, Choreography by Nicky Hunter. WITH Jonathan Kydd (Banks Urlacher), Kate Arneil (Devora Urlacher), Cathy Cogle (Grace Urlacher), Howard Gossington (Trevor Winterburn). Presented at The Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London W1. 020 7287 2875. Until June 22.

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