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BWW Review: SLEEPLESS: A MUSICAL ROMANCE, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

The Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film comes to stage

BWW Review: SLEEPLESS: A MUSICAL ROMANCE, Troubadour Wembley Park TheatreBWW Review: SLEEPLESS: A MUSICAL ROMANCE, Troubadour Wembley Park TheatreThe Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre was certainly abuzz for the opening night of Sleepless: A Musical Romance - the first fully staged musical to take place in the UK since the beginning of lockdown. Directed by Morgan Young and based on the hit 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle, the story centres around loveable widower Sam and his kismet encounter with starry-eyed reporter Annie. Based on the original screenplay, Sleepless has a book by Michael Burdette and music and lyrics from new British writers Robert Scott and Brendan Cull.

For those unfamiliar with the plot: eager for his father to find a new partner, Sam's son Jonah calls into a Seattle radio show late one night and confides in psychiatrist Dr Marcia Fieldstone. He wants his father to be happy, but Sam is struggling to move on and won't even consider dating anyone new. Jonah manages to trick his father into speaking with Dr Fieldstone on the air, and Sam describes the heartbreak and sleepless nights he's suffering after the loss of his wife - a story so touching that it captures the hearts of many, many single women across America. Sam soon begins to receive letters from enthusiastic women all over the country, each one hoping they'll land the man dubbed 'Sleepless in Seattle'.

Sam's story piques the interest of hopeless romantic Annie (Kimberley Walsh), a newspaper reporter 3,000 miles away in Baltimore. Annie pitches a piece about Sam to her editor, but soon comes to realise that Sam could be more than just a story.

Devotees of the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film will be pleased to know that the plot is true to the source material. The cast are largely strong and do a commendable job of breathing new life into a well-loved tale. Jay McGuiness produces a likeable and somewhat charismatic Sam, but his voice is perhaps a little weaker at times than the role requires. The more tender scenes with son Jonah are his best - displaying chemistry that, if not completely believable, is certainly engaging and touching.

Kimberley Walsh gives a fair performance as Annie, who puts her faith in destiny. Unfortunately, while not for lack of effort, her performance overall feels underpowered and lacking in authenticity.

Notable moments include a comic trio entitled "Dear Sleepless," in which three hopeful bachelorettes recite their various letters to Sam. A sharp and funny musical number extremely well executed by Charlie Bull, Leanne Garretty and Dominique Planter.

Cory English gives a standout turn as Sam's best friend Rob. The musical numbers he shares with Jonah ("A Whole Different Ballgame" and the brilliant "Now or Never") really are the best in the show. Speaking of whom, young Jobe Hart (who shares the role of Jonah with Theo Collins, Mikey Colville and Jack Reynolds) is truly one to watch. He gives the skilled and nuanced performance of an actor well beyond his years, and has a glorious voice to boot.

Tania Mathurin delivers a self-assured, effortless portrayal of Annie's editor Becky, encapsulated best in a punchy and energetic solo entitled "Some Things You Just Know". Mathurin's engaging presence and warm demeanour are just the ticket for a musical of this style.

In terms of social distancing, the entire evening felt safe, enjoyable and stress-free. Audience members were sent e-tickets with accompanying safety advice prior to the performance, and all staff and audience members are required to wear masks or visors. There was even a selection of complimentary Sleepless branded visors available for the audience to use (and take home of course!) if they wished.

Temperatures were checked on arrival and hand gel was readily available at every turn. For those who aren't familiar with the venue, it's worth nothing that both the auditorium and the front of house are quite large, making social distancing more than achievable. The toilets are plentiful and incredibly spacious - more akin to a stadium-style set-up as opposed to a theatre - making it extremely easy to use the facilities during the short interval without feeling crowded. I can honestly say that in terms of safety, the experience felt more controlled than any restaurant or bar I've been in since lockdown was eased, while still managing to maintain a relaxed atmosphere and sense of occasion.

Now, back to the show itself. While this beloved and touching tale lends itself well to the genre of musical theatre, this new musical offering does feel a little uneven at times. There are a few standout songs with rather witty lyrics, however a lot of the score feels pretty generic in terms of style and originality. However, the 12-piece jazz orchestra (led by Chris Walker, with musical supervision by Stuart Morley) are utter perfection.

The hardworking ensemble feels underused - but in fairness, this could be a decision made in an effort to minimise the amount of bodies on stage at any one time (the cast are situated in dressing room 'bubbles' according to who they share the stage with). While beautiful to look at, the Golden Age Hollywood-style finale feels a tad out of place - and is quite a strange ending following the famous climactic scene atop the Empire State Building.

The set design from Morgan Large is inventive and at times quite beautiful, however the set-up can sometimes feel a little too sparse in the considerably large space. While the show manages to achieve a certain level of joy and lightheartedness overall, it's also rather stilted. The transitions from book to songs often feels clunky, and the direction is sometimes static and predictable.

Regardless, Sleepless is a wonderful chance to finally experience live theatre again, with many heartwarming and entertaining moments to share. Here's hoping this production signals the start of better times ahead for the theatre industry as a whole.

Sleepless is at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre until 27 September

Photo credit: Alistair Muir


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