BWW Review: STALKING JOHN BARROWMAN Plagued By Technical Problems
John Barrowman is a Scottish-American actor, singer, dancer, TV show host and writer who has both British and American citizenship. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1975. His first big break was as Billy Crocker in Cole Porter's Anything Goes on London's West End. His most recent West End credit was in the 2009 production of La Cage aux Folles. To American audiences, he is primarily known for his TV work playing Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and Torchwood. He is also openly gay.
STALKING JOHN BARROWMAN is a musical written by Naomi Chiffi and Jude Garner and composer/lyricist Patrick Steed that is currently enjoying its American Première in a production by Last Act Theatre Company. A clever play on the musical chestnut of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again; STALKING JOHN BARROWMAN is about a female fan who meets a gay male fan who are equally obsessed with Mr. Barrowman. They become unlikely friends and even end up opening a detective agency together so they can devote more time to their obsession. It is billed as a musical about friendship, love, and the consequences of extreme fandom over John Barrowman.
This musical is obviously high on concept, like most chamber musicals and even employs the convention of a girl group Greek chorus called the J-Belles (think Ronettes in Little Shop of Horrors). Besides them, we have the two leads, Jamie (Greg Driscoll) and Julie (Kristin Hall) and the Ensemble, who play a multitude of characters. And, for added measure, John Barrowman himself has recorded his voice and it is used in the show quite effectively. Think Will & Grace meets Little Shop of Horrors and you've got a fair idea of what this show is.
Being a big fan myself of Mr. Barrowman as well as Doctor Who and Torchwood, I was looking forward to seeing this show. This is definitely a fan-boy musical. The thing is, when you are producing a chamber musical, you have to realize that they are the theatrical equivalent of a soufflé. They have to be light, airy and fast paced as they are designed to be pure entertainment. Unfortunately, this production is plagued by technical issues that it never quite recovers from.
The biggest problem here is the sound system. The combo (keyboardist and musical director Cy Albertson and Drummer Elliot Trahan) are so loud they drown out the performers. It also appeared that the microphones on the cast were cutting in and out all night. The end result was that a good 75% of the show is completely unintelligible.
Another problem is the extremely long scene changes that grind the action of the show to a complete halt. While Christina Barboza's set is clever, it seemed too much for the cast to handle changing quickly, especially in the changes to Jamie and Julie's detective office. This, in turn, made the pacing seem extremely slow.
There are some good performances here. Kristin Hall is very good as Julie. She has a strong voice and was quite funny as the female part of the duo. Unfortunately, Greg Driscoll is miscast as Jamie. He seemed to struggle so much with the British accent that the wit and panache of this gay musical fan is lost. Many jokes, especially those of the double entendre kind (of which there are many in this show), just never land. This also keeps there from being any real chemistry (which is what should drive the show) between Jamie and Julie.
The J-Belles (a cross between a Greek musical chorus, narrators and muses) are also very good. Kate Clark, Chelsea Beth Hockaday and Becky Musser create this charming and snappy trio that keep the show moving along. Although these roles were written for a gospel trio, these actresses acquit themselves quite well.
Many members of the ensemble also deliver memorable moments, namely Devin Adams, who possesses a strong clear singing voice and infuses every scene he has with great likability; Andrew Brett and Hal Roberts are charming as the boyfriends who come along; Taylor Flanagan as a Starbucks employee and Mindy Rast-Keenan as the oversexed office worker every gay male fears.
Director Ben McLemore and Choreographer Kelly Sims didn't seem to offer the cast much in the way of inspiration. Where one expected funny, charming, clever, feel-good and a little raunchy we instead were given actors in darkness, playground choreography, unintelligible music, wrinkled costumes... it just seemed like this whole soufflé hadn't quite cooked enough.
STALKING JOHN BARROWMAN by Naomi Chiffi and Jude Garner, Music by Patrick Steed.
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission.
STALKING JOHN BARROWMAN, produced by Heather Leonard for Last Act Theatre Company at the Daugherty Art Center (110 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704). Performances Sept. 24, 25 & 26, Oct. 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 & 10 at 8:00 PM. Sept. 27, Oct. 4, 10 & 11 at 1:00 PM. Tickets: $20.