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The Theatreguide.London Review

Union Theatre   February-March 2015

This amiable little musical, which had a West End run in 2012, would seem perfect for the kind of small-scale revival that the Union Theatre is so good at. But while some of its charm comes through, a string of separate small errors keep getting in the way. 

Book, music and lyrics by Elliot Davis and James Bourne tell a delightful high school fable set in 1971, in which the nerds triumph over the cool kids and the jocks, and the biggest geek gets the prettiest girl.

Along the way cheerleaders are liberated, Star Trek is celebrated, Star Wars is written and the internet is invented. 

Typical of the generally silly but irresistible wit of the show are the hero's name, Michael Dork, and the fact that his buddy Lucas is writing a sci-fi epic beginning with episode four, picking up inspiration from such sources as the three separate overheard conversations that add up to 'Oh,' 'B-1' 'cannoli.' 

So the meanies are defeated, the underdogs win, the songs are pleasant theatre-pop and the jokes are fine. Why isn't this revival as much fun as the West End version was three years ago? 

It has nothing to do with budget the show requires no special effects, and director Michael Burgen inventively makes do with some colourful cubes and a couple of blackboards. 

It does have something to do with the missing illusion of ease. Oddly, this young cast are too openly working hard at playing their young characters, and our awareness of their efforts gets in the way of the fun. 

There are a couple of bits of miscasting in a fable like this the cool-kid villain's girlfriend really does have to be a specific physical type and of misdirection  one of the actors is working so hard at an imitation of French Stewart (the squinty one in 3rd Rock From The Sun) that he has little room for a characterisation. 

It almost goes without saying that none of the singers can project, and that everyone in the cast at some time, and some people all the time, can't make themselves audible over a single guitar and piano. Sitting no more than six feet from the cast you are likely to miss about half the lyrics, though which half will depend on where you are and who is directly facing you.

Choreographer Matt Krzan stages some peppy dances, but he hasn't mastered the Union's tiny stage, and his big numbers all look cramped and cluttered.

Luke Newton is adequate as the nerdy hero, Holly-Anne Hull somewhat more than that as the girl with brains and beauty, Lewis Bradley coasting on generic smarm as the baddy. 

It's possible that after a week or so everyone will relax into their roles, stop trying so hard, and learn how to make themselves heard while singing, and the production will find all the fun in this pleasantly unassuming little musical.

Gerald Berkowitz

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