Tuesday, 16 October 2007

REVIEW: "Bad Girls: The Musical"

The musical has always been a medium of adaptation, from early novels and straight plays to today’s films and pop star catalogues, musical theatre has been used to bring a new look at an old work. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bad Girls, a 100+ episode prison drama from British network ITV opened this past August. Retaining one of the TV series’ original stars and filling the stage with a wealth of new actresses and songs, Bad Girls is a mostly new British musical full of talent, but also one that begs the question “why?”

As the show begins, young Rachel Hicks is strip searched and processed upon her entry to prison for possession. The wing’s guards (or “screws” as they’re called) make it clear that she’s in for a tough time, as the scene segues into a long opening number introducing the main prisoners and our setting. The prisoner stereotypes are all represented here, from the domineering top dog to the supposedly reformed Christian, and the screws run the one-dimensional gamut as well. As the first act progresses, prisoner Nikki Wade, played by Caroline Head, is given a shot at an appeal and freedom. At the same time, top dog Shell Dockley is overtaken by newcomer Yvonne Atkins, a mafia wife who makes fast friends. These threads are interwoven with prison politics as a corrupt guard attempts to become Ward Governor while having sexual relations with as many of the prisoners as possible. When tragedy strikes as a result, the ward is thrown into chaos. The second act deals with the aftermath, and most of the plot twists are rather obvious, even to those who don’t know the TV show.

The score, while pleasant, is an uninspired lineup of adult contemporary ballads and pop songs. Most of the numbers are instantly forgettable and shockingly out of tone with the story line - I frequently found myself wishing for a number to end so that we could return to the more engaging book scenes. The one exception was “All Banged Up”, sung by Yvonne (played by Sally Dexter) and “the two Julies”, a pair of bubbly blonde tarts, attempting to seduce a handsome and naive guard. Unfortunately, this song creates a dilemma for the audience: It’s not OK for a guard to try and overpower a prisoner for sex, but should we laugh and cheer on a trio of prisoners attempting the same thing?

A great deal of respect is due to the cast. Three cast members, Nicole Faraday (Dockley), Laura Rogers, and Helen Fraser (Sylvia), worked on the TV series, with Ms. Fraser returning to her original role. The aforementioned Ms. Dexter is also worthy of acclaim as the powerhouse Yvonne, commanding the stage and stealing every scene she appeared in, as did the boyishly charming Chris Grierson as good-guy guard Justin Mickelwhite Also worthy of mention are Colin Richmond’s concrete and steel inspired sets, bringing us into the cold, gray world of prison life alongside Tim Mitchell’s lights.

While fans of the TV series will undoubtedly appreciate Bad Girls more than newcomers to the franchise, the show suffers from a fatal flaw: there is no need for it to be a musical. The book scenes are dramatically sufficient to tell the story on their own, and the songs provide little introspection and frequently harm the show more by breaking up the action rather than supplementing it with emotions and conflicts that dialogue alone can’t reach. It’s entertaining, but ultimately unsatisfying as primary character threads are left unfinished and we get a forced ending for some of the secondaries instead. With ticket sales flagging, best to see this one while you can. The educational value of how not to construct a musical is worthy of admission price alone.

Where: Garrick Theatre
When: M-Sa @ 7:30PM, Th/Sa @ 3PM
Cost: £25-55
Concessions: The usual suspects can get best remaining tickets day of performance for £25. A promotion for top tickets at £25 is currently running.
RZ unofficial “worth paying”: £10 if you’re not into the franchise, £15 (maybe £20) if you are. There’s some fun to be had, and a couple of good scenes, but Bad Girls overall is a stinker. It’s worth seeing in the same way that In My Life is worth seeing, only not as much fun.
RZ other notes: This was a musical that could have been better in other hands and if they didn’t stick to the events of the first TV season. The songs should have been darker, more cynical and sarcastic, and not as campy and over the top. Each act also started to drag and could have lost 5-10 min. along the way. (Un?)fortunately, Bad Girls doesn’t appear to be long for this world, given that both circles (aka Mezzanine and Balcony) were closed tonight, and even with their inhabitants moved down to the stalls (Orchestra), they were still less than half full.

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