When Midnight Strikes

When Midnight Strikes – a musical with music by Charles Miller, book and lyrics by Kevin Hammonds

Jennifer West – Stephanie Flavin
Christopher West – Nicholas Moorhead
Josephina – Lorraine Graham
Zoe – Susan Raasay
Greg West – Alan Winner
Nicole – Shona White
Edward – Ben Enwright
Rachel – Hannah Lindo
Bradley – Miles Western
Twyla – Emma Hatton
Alex – Bradley Clarkson
Murial – Nancy Baldwin

David Randall (piano), Charles Miller (studio piano), Sarah Bowler (cello), Duncan Lamont (saxophone & clarinet), Martin Fisher (additional keyboards & percussion), Alison Latchford & Claire Hawkins (backing vocals)

Fenton Gray – Director
David Randall – Musical Director
Norma Atallah – Musical Staging
Martin Fisher – Music Production
Wai Yin Kwok – Designer
Amy Jackson – Costume Designer
Alan Bratton – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 15 September, 2007
Venue: Finborough Theatre, London

London’s West End mainstream theatre has all but given up on the idea of the new musical. It is left to the fringe venues such as the Donmar Warehouse, Jermyn Street Theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory, Greenwich Theatre, the Bridewell, the Pleasance, the Landor, the Lyric Hammersmith and the Finborough in Earl’s Court to encourage young writers into the genre. Instead Shaftesbury Avenue relies on the tried and tested long-runners such as “The Phantom of the Opera”, “We Will Rock You”, “Mamma Mia!”, “Les Misérables” or revivals and movie and TV adaptations such as “Billy Eliot”, “Joseph…”, “Dirty Dancing”, “Chicago”, “Buddy”, “Bad Girls”, “The Lion King”, “Cabaret”, “Spamalot”, “Grease”, “Footloose”, “Mary Poppins” and “Fiddler on the Roof”. The idea of the new seems anathema to the West End, so that when, or if, the long-runners ever stop, the West End musical will be dead and buried. Since West End management relies on the musical to keep it going – there are currently 23 at the latest count with a couple more on the way – and without them the West End would have to shut up shop. But are they encouraging new work? Are they hell!

Given the state of the West End it is unlikely that a ‘small’ musical like “When Midnight Strikes” will get nearer to the West End than the Earl’s Court pub-theatre where it is currently enjoying its world premiere. There ought to be a venue near or in the West End where modest but good shows such as this can transfer for a higher profile. The Players’ Theatre would be ideal and, when it finally opens, Cameron Mackintosh’s new Sondheim studio theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue could be the place for this sort of show. Recently the Menier Chocolate Factory premiered “Take Flight” which will go straight to Broadway from the fringe. Let’s hope “When Midnight Strike” can do the same.

In the meantime, the upstairs room of the Finborough pub becomes a swish Manhattan loft-apartment on New Year’s Eve 1999 as a group of friends meet for a dinner party to see in the new millennium. (Another lot a year too early! – Ed.) Did I say friends? Well, they are more like acquaintances who have been flung together to act out the usual rituals that these celebrations dictate – drinking, eating, gossiping, playing games and revealing secrets. It’s not a particularly savoury collection of partygoers as all these malcontents have their problems and their hang-ups.

The hosts are Christopher and Jennifer West who are going through a bad patch. Chris has had an affair and a concerned friend has informed his wife to that effect. Jennifer is devoted to her husband and feels justifiably aggrieved, although he actually regrets the fling and wants to pick up with his wife. At the party are Chris’s brother Greg, another philanderer, and his ex-partner Rachel. The other friends provide ammunition for the hosts and they include Bradley and friend Twyla (“what’s a party without a queen and a fag-hag?”), a computer ‘anorak’ called Edward and an annoyed neighbour, Murial, who has locked herself out (“she must have been raised by a pair of crazed librarians”). There’s also Josephina, a would-be actress who is marking time as the hosts’ housekeeper while awaiting that all-important audition call.

All in all, it’s the very cross-section of New York society, much like the one in Sondheim’s “Company” – and the songs by Miller and Hammonds are in a similar vein. It’s a sort of urban song-cycle linked with sassy lines and situations and it is by no means an insignificant contribution to the new-musical scene. It works well within the confines of the Finborough’s small space but would also work equally well if broadened out on a larger stage. Wai Yin Kwok’s elegant and stylish design places the players and the audience within a glass-and-bottle-strewn set, showing that everybody is here to drink themselves into the next millennium and oblivion.

London composer Charles Miller and New York lyricist Kevin Hammonds came together some ten ago to write the stage version of the cult Vincent Price film “Theatre of Blood”. Since then they have written ten musicals, which have all been produced either here or in the US, although they still live on different continents. Their show “Brenda Bly: teen Detective” has been particularly successful in the UK. Next month sees the release of a studio cast recording of the songs from “When Midnight Strikes”. This and the show itself may go down well in the US, mainly because it is a very American show, full of the angst of modern Stateside living.

There are nineteen songs in the show and there’s not one that seems superfluous. Each character tells their own story through the songs which move the story on until we get to the fateful point when midnight strikes and we are into a new era, which seems very much like the old one, with the only positive change being that Edward and Murial have discovered each other, forming a relationship they never expected, which they reveal in ‘Party Conversation’. The guests begin with good intentions in the song ‘Resolutions’, but it’s a hollow irony. The bold and brassy Nicole, who is in love with Chris, although she is not the one he has slept with, tells us that ‘What you see’ is basically what you get, while Chris himself reveals he is turning out like his own dad, who was unfaithful to his mother, in ‘Like father, like son’. Greg, Chris’s brother, another reprobate, confesses all in ‘A jerk like me’, but, when he tries to get back his ex-partner, Rachel, she says it’s ‘Too little, too late’. Alex, a loner who feels outside the group, yearns to be accepted in ‘Let me inside’. Even Josephina, the maid, has her moment when she admits that she ‘Never learned to type’ – otherwise she would have no excuse for trying to be an actress.

It’s a good cast all with strong voices well suited to the spikiness of the vocal material. Oddly, one feels sympathy for all of these unlikeable characters: Stephanie Flavin’s heartbroken Jennifer and her erring husband, Chris (Nicholas Moorhead); Shona White’s Nicole, the punchy female who puts up a front all the time, the similarly disenchanted Rachel (Hannah Lindo), Greg’s ex, the ballsy neighbour Murial (Nancy Baldwin) and even Zoe (Susan Raasay) who is generally out of her mind on something chemical. Of the men, the gay Bradley (the hilarious Miles Western), the sad loner Alex (Bradley Clarkson) and the nerdy Edward (a sustained comic performance by Ben Enwright) all stand out. Strong women reacting against weak men in a transatlantic musical ‘comedy’: how could the West End not want it?

  • When Midnight Strikes continues at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 until 29 September: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.
  • Tickets on 0870 4000 838 or from the links below
  • Finborough
  • When Midnight Strikes

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