Review of Birds of Paradise at The Drayton Arms Theatre

Birds Of Paradise Cast
Birds of Paradise – Image Credit Sam Elwin

If you live (or have ever lived) in a small town, you very well know the juicy gossip that goes around. It’s usually news about a local affair, a new baby on the way, or in Birds of Paradise’s case, news about a local star coming to town.

When Broadway actor, Lawrence Woods (Ashley Knight), returns home for a short visit, the local theatre group prepares for his arrival. Eagerly rehearsing their upcoming production, in hopes that their talents would impress Woods. One creative, young man, Homer (James Kenneth Haughan), takes matters into his own hands by planning to share his new musical with Woods. Little did Homer know, Woods – insecure about his life and career – would be willing to direct his musical.

Thus, begins the chaos of love triangles and heartbreaks all because of a seagull. Winnie Holzman’s sentimental lyrics and David Evan’s beautiful music are pure perfection. The trouble lay with this particular cast is that every actor had a different perception of how genuine to be on stage. With multiple complicated relationships, the actors seemed immature for any relationship to be real. The age difference – which should not have been of concern – was uncomfortable to watch.

It wasn’t believable that Woods would fall for Julia (Lottie Johnson). Johnson’s character had these strong amazing ballads, yet her gentleness and naïveté didn’t own the stage. This was the case for Haughan as well. His connection to his character was lost and in need of grounding. The cast all together needed a strong balance of grounding in reality, rather than over-dramatically acting.

To emphasise the cast’s showy performances, Marc Kelly’s direction of this musical stressed on a gimmicky production. The actors moving to centre stage for their solo numbers got old quickly. As well as, the direction actors exited and entered on stage was unclear. To make matters more confusing, the lighting didn’t guide the emotions behind the narrative. There were moments actors were in the dark when they should have been lit. Other moments had the whole stage was lit; yet, we were only focused on two people. Aside from all of this, the pianist sat in the back corner of the stage rarely acknowledged by the cast. Actor or not, it was awkward having someone clearly lit on stage pretending not to be there unless he was playing music.

The best part of the production was the penguin song. Though the overall singing was lovely and the storyline was entertaining, the penguin scene was one of the few moments the few actors had a real, genuine and funny connection. In this moment, this musical knew what it was and the cast performed it perfectly.

Birds of Paradise is an entertaining musical comedy that gives singers the opportunity to dive into real emotions on stage. It focuses on the challenges of being in different stages of one’s career and the added struggle of relationships putting a strain on the future. This musical is a night of witty songs, wonderful voices and the irony of birds of paradise.

3 stars

Review by Aly Chromy

When a group of eccentric amateur actors attempt to stage an absurd new musical version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, they each end up learning more than just their lines. As rehearsals go on, art starts to imitate life as they all learn valuable lessons in love and acceptance.

A joyful and witty comedy told through heartfelt songs and uplifting music, this UK premiere of Birds of Paradise will charm and delight fans of contemporary musical theatre. An early work of Winnie Holzman (writer of the book of Wicked), it showcases the comedic talents of one of the genre’s most influential authors.

Following the successes of their previous five-star shows at The Drayton Arms with The Baker’s Wife and Lucky Stiff, MKEC Productions continue their mission to bring high-quality stagings of lesser-known musicals to the London fringe.

“The score is filled with the kind of yearning diffused with joy that Holzman would bring to later projects like Wicked and My So-Called Life.” Playbill

The first half runs for 60 minutes
The second half runs for 50 minutes

Birds of Paradise
Saturday 06 May 2017 – Saturday 20 May 2017

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