Americana: In Concert at Theatre Royal Stratford
As is clear from their mission statement, Theatre Royal Stratford East is “a prolific developer of new work, attracting artists and audiences often not represented in many other venues.” Such a forward-thinking view can be risky and yet, with Americana in Concert, it appears to pay off. The raw and young vitality of the concert version of this show, which will be fully staged later in the year, has many moments that prove that the future of musical theatre should be safe.
The concert works around a skeleton of the script that places each of the songs within the context of the story. The songs, most of which clearly have a very deep punk-rock feel to them, deal with a great variety of themes. Nothing appears to be taboo in the musical stylings of Gez Mez and Conway McDermott, who wrote the music for the show: songs referring to the use of crystal meth, slavery and even hatred of homosexuals are interspersed throughout.
Laurence Schuman, who plays David, deserves particular credit, his voice blending very well with the punk-rock band as they play Confederate Fag [sic]. This is one of the highlights of the concert, the emotion of a young man who has been bullied for his homosexuality and neglected by his teachers unleashed in something like the musical equivalent of a particularly violent firework display.
Among the up-tempo songs, a couple of ballads break up the fast pace of the musical and it is one of these slower songs that produces an incredibly moving performance from Sienna Sebek, who plays Jackson. Generally, the use of piano is predictably sparing, but when involved, the delicate chords and relaxing harmonies cut the tension perfectly. Love Ain’t All that I Need is a perfect example and whilst at times the story of the concert seems to hold the audience at arms’ length, at that point it embraces them as they share in the heartbreaking moment of a struggle for acceptance together.
Americana in Concert is at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 31st March until 2nd April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.