Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
This cute, clever little musical is enjoying its European première right here in Hornchurch, and it could hardly have wished for a more stylish staging.
Like Dennis Potter's Singing Detective, it pays affectionate tribute to the film noir world of private dicks and dumb blondes, all lovingly recreated in this Cut to the Chase production.
The story is a familiar one: Sam Galahad, “a two-bit keyhole peeper”, battles crooked cops and heavy hoods to track down the killer of magnate Adrian Wasp, and his own long-lost love.
It's told by faded cabaret singer Buddy Toupée, in the shadowy world of the Red Eye Lounge, with Galahad's office and other locations suggested by impressive visuals stage left.
There are references to the originals, and sneaky snippets - “just the facts, ma'am” “here's looking at you” - peppered throughout, as well as some ripe pastiche - “trailing perfume like a whispered prayer”. The programme gives us a helpful run-down on the genre. The lyrics – in the Blonde Song, for instance – are often witty and slick: Bartok/bar-talk. The music is used as punctuation, or under dialogue, as well as in the dozen or more numbers that adorn this two-hour show, until our anti-hero finally plays the tape and takes the rap. None of it memorable, though Mansion Hill and the Childhood Days trio were polished, and the Don't Know What I Expected motif survives the parking-lot test – still humming it as we drove away. “Jenny”, the most obviously sondheimlich of the songs, is a lovely, lush mirror-ball flashback to Galahad's old flame of ten years ago.
The performances are pretty near perfection: Greg Last, MD for the show, has a ball as virtuoso manqué Buddy, surely the part he was born to play. The commercial for his cassette compilation – gloriously reprised as telephone hold musak – is priceless.
Sean Needham triumphs as Galahad, the voice and the character nailed absolutely. And Sarah Scowen plays all the blondes in this twisted tale, gloriously guying the genre, in particular as chanteuse Carol Indigo, “the one, the only, the tipsy”, belting out her big number. Mr Last is at the keyboard throughout, Scowen plays trumpet, and Needham gives us a mean harmonica obbligato in the title number. The piece is often performed with just three, but here two more excellent actors – Simon Jessop and Steve Simmonds - take turns on drum and trumpet, as well as assuming stock characters like underworld hoodlums Joe Paisley and his sidekick Rocco.
There are many reasons why a fringe musical remains unknown after more than twenty years. There is no shortage of sharp, witty dialogue, and the music adds an enjoyable dimension to an oft-parodied art-form. And Bob Carlton and his creative team have given the piece their best shot, with a superb staging and spot-on performances. But compared to, say, Pick Yourself Up, or the Queen's classic Return to the Forbidden Planet [due another revival this November], this doesn't quite cut the musical comedy mustard.
production photo: Nobby Clark
production photo: Nobby Clark
The Detective and The Blonde from Queen's Theatre Hornchurch on Vimeo.