It’s a busy day at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool: the guests are frenzied, receptionist Neil is leaving for Japan, and manager Jo has been invited to go with him. She’s distraught and torn between her safe life and going off with a friend turned potential lover. Amidst the chaos (since the paragraph so far has covered the opening number), a woman has been spotted on the roof and may be about to jump. When Jo goes up to check it out, she finds herself talking to Alice, her predecessor from 70 years prior. The majority of the show from thereon is a flashback about Alice’s time during the golden age of Hollywood, and the ups and downs of her relationship with Thompson, a rogue and childhood friend trying to clean up his act and win her heart.
There’s a lot to appreciate about Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi. It boasts a cast of 19, manages to fit them all onto the Union’s stage, has a huge creative team working for it, and even offered press tickets to bloggers (including insane ones like yours truly). There’s also the benefit of an original book, new music, Andrew Wright’s energetic and sharp choreography, and Rebecca Hutchinson pulling a double shift as modern day Jo and 1930’s Young Alice.
So before I go all rant-y and do the “tear everything I see apart because that’s what the readers expect” bit, I’ll get the pull quote out of the way first:
Fans of traditional musicals will love “Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi.” It’s a charming, pleasantly scored fairy tale, a love letter to the pre-war Liverpudlian spirit, and another hit for the Union. It’s sweet, gentle, and pleasantly old-fashioned. The West End Whingers would love it, and it’s fantastic to see a new, original show with so many people behind it coming into town.
Unfortunately, I’m a raging cynic and it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
It may have just been because I had a long day, but I found the pacing rather excruciating: directed by its writer Phil Willmott, “Adelphi” moves at a snail’s pace, and despite the first act only being 65 minutes, it felt like at least 90. The second act was snappier, but both could have done with cuts. Part of this, however, needs to be attributed to the evolution of the musical form - it’s rare to stop the plot these days just to have a scene set up a song and dance number. Old fashioned charm is what the show is about, though, so I get it. And I’m glad they’re there, because Wright’s choreography is a highlight of the show.
The book also has some issues with the continuation of action: while the parallel of Jo and Neil is set up as a foil and an interest point against Alice and Thompson, the former isn’t actually developed enough to matter: all it does is help telegraph the final plot twist, and more astute viewers will pick up on it from the start.
Mr. Willmott’s score (assisted by Elliot Davis) is also pleasant, but ballad heavy and both forgettable (can’t remember any tunes 12 hours later) and had some familiar sounding chord structures. And unfortunately, Jon-Paul Hevey sounded like he was having a bad night, as his singing became increasingly awkward through the night though he mostly made up for it with his scouse charm and well-meaning roguishness.
And yes, this is a show full of scousers. And visiting Americans. Visiting Americans played in part by American actors who really should have helped their English compatriots out with their overplayed accents and informed Mr. Willmott that Americans don’t call elevators “lifts.” But that’s a nitpick there.
As I said before, there’s a lot to recommend “Adelphi,” and traditionalists and new musical enthusiasts will both get their kicks out of the production. Mancurians and the sarcastic, however, are likely to be less than enthusiastic.