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A Weekend at the Theatre: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

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 This weekend was a rather cultural one for me as I managed to see two performances at The Playhouse, the first being Phantom of the Opera and the second American Idiot.

 Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic, The Phantom of the Opera was the more expensive of the two, with reasonable seats in the circle costing around £50 each. It was apparent where the money was spent. Phantom was an opulent display of stunning costumes, authentic props and one of the most impressive sets I’ve seen. The title track is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful and epic pieces of music ever written for musical theatre… except from the 80s electric drumbeat and synth. Seriously. Why does this feature in a show set in 19th century France?

We shouldn’t blame Lloyd Webber for the general disaster that was 80s music. On the whole, Phantom contains a significant percentage of the world’s most famous show tunes: Think of Me, Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again to name a few. And the orchestration really is beautiful.

My main problem with the musical is that at times there is just too much singing. When-they-sing-every-word-of-every-sentence-and-it’s-all-the-same-note-and-doesn’t-even-rhyme-when-they-could-just-speak-instead really annoys me. It reminds me of a Billy Connolly sketch mocking operas where every action is sung- “I’m going away! Away over there! Up the valley and round the hill and down the side but you can’t see me! Cause the hill’s in the way!”

Another issue for me what that for a reasonable part of the musical I had no idea what was happening. Don’t even ask what the second half was about. This was down to the fact I often struggled to understand what the characters were singing. The tone could be too operatic; the pitch too high; the voices too numerous.

I hope I don’t sound like a total ignoramus. It was a still a wonderful performance and even if I couldn’t understand exactly what was happening, the acting was good and I was fighting tears by the end.

 American Idiot, on the other hand, was a totally different story (and much cheaper option at around £24 for similar seats). The show uses the hits of Greenday and tells the story of three wannabe anarchists. When I told someone I was going to see this, they asked, “why does that even exist?” Unfortunately, I left the musical thinking exactly the same thing. The story is literally thus- wannabe 1 gets his girlfriend pregnant and stays at home; wannabes 2 and 3 move to the ‘big city’. Wannabe 2 joins the army while wannabe 3 falls for a female wannabe, does heroin, loses female wannabe and then ends up coming home. Hardly groundbreaking stuff. 

 American Idiot definitely lacked the humour of We Will Rock You or the fun of Mama Mia! and was really quite mundane. While doing a scissor-kick in skinny jeans is actually pretty impressive, the chorus jazz-handing their way through a contemporary rock album was cringey. Hardcore fans would probably appreciate American Idiot but in my opinion, Lloyd Webber keeps his crown.

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