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BWW Reviews: ONCE UPON A TIME AT THE ADELPHI, Union Theatre, March 12th 2010


I was so looking forward to this show. Having seen snippets of it as performed by the lovely Julie Atherton at last year's What's On Stage Awards, and heard brilliant word-of-mouth comments after its premiere last year, I was sure my adoration for new musicals would be indulged here underneath the arches.

Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi is a curious little flashback show, set in a landmark hotel in Liverpool, with two parallel primary love stories as well as a comic sub-plot in the best tradition of the golden-age musicals. When you're setting out your aim to compete with Rodgers and Hammerstein, you've got a lot to live up to.

And sure enough, the storyline is straightforward, uncomplicated and romantic, some of the tunes are fabulous, and I must single out Andy Wright's choreography as nigh-on genius in such an enclosed space. The cast are clearly highly talented, with Rebecca Hutchinson shining in the dual roles of Jo and young Alice, and though Jon-Paul Hevey's Scouse accent slips sometimes when he's singing, his vocals are exceptional. The multiple roles played by the high-energy ensemble deserve boundless praise.

Yet I felt slightly short-changed, not for the first time this week, by the book and lyrics; there's a time and place for sentimentality, and Phil Willmott's words ladle it on with intention and abandon, with his homage to Liverpool and its environs. It's a matter of personal taste, of course, but my teeth were really set on edge by the use of the word "cheesy" to refer to the Hollywood screen musicals, when the love stories here are intensely romantic-plot-by-numbers.

As for the characterisation, bad-boy-made-good-turned-bad-again-then-redeemed-by-true-love Thompson seemed singularly unappealing to me, and his redemption arc was a little unclear, though I'm guessing there's been some dialogue cut that clarifies whether or not he entered into his relationship with Alice with ulterior motives. Fritz, the tormented German refugee, was the most interesting character and one expected his melancholy, played initially for laughs, to be revisited at a later point. Babs is clearly intended to be an Ado-Annie-alike but she switches from being a carefree tart with a heart to a sad young woman with self-esteem issues.

As the happy-ever-afters play out, Jo ends up with Neil and Thompson and Alice are finally reunited, of course, but even this was unsatisfying to me, simply because the whole show focuses on the relationship between Thompson and young Alice - but the denouement sees him with the older version, with whom he's had no interaction, as Hutchinson is playing Jo in the final scene. It's a rather anti-climactic happy ending.

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From This Author Carrie Dunn

Carrie is the UK editor-in-chief for BroadwayWorld. After spending her formative years reading books and ending up with a Masters degree in English literature from (read more...)