Another year, another Perfect Pitch. This year the festival changed from showcasing 10 shows (15-60 min. presentations) at Upstairs at the Gatehouse to showcasing 6 (45-55 min. presentations) at Trafalgar Studios 2. While the new location lends to the festival’s cred, the reduction in showcased material - especially when two of the six were by the same person - is disappointing even if the bump in casting is equally impressive.
That said, I went on two nights and saw four of the pieces. As these works are still in development I won’t get into too much detail but will stick to general impressions.
First and foremost, I thought that while the scores to all of the shows were good, three of the four were identical in style - I felt as though I could cut apart the music and put the songs into different pieces without suspecting something wrong. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the limited (or entire lack of) arrangements used, as hearing theatrepop scores on piano alone (or with simplified string and/or acoustic guitar) makes it difficult to appreciate uniqueness in full. Now on with the individual shows:
Lift - Nine people ride the lift at Covent Garden station and their lives meet and intertwine. It’s a nifty idea, and while I don’t think the show could easily scale to the West End, I can see it fitting in comfortably at somewhere like the Chocolate Factory or the Kings Head. Likewise this would work quite well as a concept album. It’s a good (if not overly white) representation of modern London.
The Diary of Me - A rebellious 16 year old comes to terms with his estranged father dating again after his mother dies while understanding friendship and relationships. This would have been more interesting had I not seen Shit Mix a month earlier: fairly standard youth theatre fare, would do well somewhere like Oval House or on a TIE programme.
Can You Keep A Secret - A mother is constantly moving with her two daughters: one who fails to establish friendships online or in person yet falls for a local bad boy and another who is shy and escapes into a fantasy world with dangerous repercussions on reality. Similar thoughts to The Diary of Me, but taken from a more adult perspective. Word is that the teenage relationships involved are actually the main ones but the adults became the focus in order to keep things clean for the 45 min. format. The fantasy elements will, I suspect, be better dealt with when scenery and the full running time are involved.
The Lost Christmas - A pair of robots from the year 4000 come back to the present to find something missing from the winter season, meeting up with a girl in a traditional, respectable middle-upper class liberal family. The standout score of the bunch, the music here is more pastiche than straightforward and it works out well. This show probably worked best in the 45 min. format (along with Lift which is more episodic than linear) and this would make a nice alternative to panto.
In short: nothing OMGWOW but there’s clear potential in all cases and I wish I could have seen the last two shows (Rebels and Retail, which looks like a British Walmartopia and Through the Door, a time travel romance.) The scarier thing is that the festival organisers consider themselves to be a stepping stone in early or middle development for a five to ten year development cycle. IMHO that’s an excessive period, but not a surprising one these days - Next to Normal - currently running in DC - has been going for 10 years (even if it was production worthy after seven,) Rue Magique also made it to ten despite staying a disaster, and even RENT was being worked on for the better part of five years (arguably seven including when Larson and Aronson were toying around with it.) The turnaround time on production is only getting higher (remember the days when composers banged out a new show in 1-3 years?) and it's frightening to think that in many cases the reward is a 1 hour edition at a festival with 1800 other shows competing for eyes or 6-8 weeks on the Fringe with few places to follow up.
On that note, I wish the best of luck to all involved, and let’s all look forward to 2009.