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The Theatreguide.London Review

Little Fish
Finborough Theatre      Autumn 2009

Michael John LaChiusa's small-scale musical never quite transcends its not-quite-big-time fringe feel but provides an amiable 90 minutes on that less demanding level.

LaChiusa wrote the show's music, lyrics and book, based on short stories by Deborah Eisenberg telling the tale of a young woman who comes to New York City after a bad love affair.

She quits smoking and looks to physical activity - first swimming, then running - to gain some control over her life, only learning slowly how to accept the happiness available in a less-than-perfect existence.

The first good thing to say about LaChiusa's music is that, unlike most young theatre composers of the past 40 years, he doesn't sound like imitation Sondheim or Lloyd Webber. He has his own melodic voice, simple and frequently wistful, and his best songs stand quite successfully on their own.

On the other hand, too many of the two dozen songs in this show are underdeveloped, sounding like the sketches for melodies or like introductory verses waiting for a chorus that hasn't been written.

And,while LaChiusa's spoken dialogue is frequently witty and incisive, too many of the song lyrics are prosaic in themselves and in their purpose, merely filling narrative gaps in the story.

Still, the best of the songs do marry evocative lyrics to appropriate music. 'Perfect,' about the need to accept the less-than-perfect, and 'Remember Me,' about intimations of mortality and the value of friends, are particularly lovely and haunting.

'Little Fish' embodies the play's message without preaching and '90 Year Old Man' captures a bit of urban imagery with a concise effectiveness Sondheim could envy.

As the central character Julia Worsley is onstage and the focus of our attention uninterruptedly, and the actress carries the young woman through her slow leaning curve with empathy and believability, making it regrettable that so many of her songs are barely serviceable - of the ones I named, only '90 Year Old Man' is hers.

Laura Pitt-Pulford is attractive as her perky best friend, and does full justice to the two best songs, 'Perfect' and 'Remember Me,' while Lee William-Davis as the obligatory gay pal comes close to stopping the show with the climactic 'Little Fish.'

The rest of the cast are equally fine, which - along with the smooth movement of people around the tiny stage of this above-a-pub theatre - is a credit to Adam Lenson's skilled and sensitive direction.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Little Fish - Finborough Theatre 2009


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