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Review of Geek! A New Musical by Scott Morgan

Geek! A New MusicalGeek! is in most respects a wonderful new musical. The score is fantastic – some memorable and extremely moving melodies, beautifully written, with song words to match. I am reluctant to criticise because I could personally do no better, but do feel the script needs a little work. Young adults and possibly many older ones might easily love it and I am sure young boys would be utterly gripped by it. But I would not want nevertheless to recommend it to a young family and it is difficult to see how a modern musical can really smash it in a big West End theatre without the family audience.

The basis of the plot is good and there are some genius comic moments, such as how the true nature of the American pageant scene is conveyed. Also I’ve found myself unable to resist using some of the gags as I go out and about in my own life. Geek! is good in so many respects and it is exciting to be one of the first to see a new piece, especially a new piece with music that is in places out of this world. Perhaps it is just a sign of age that I wish the ‘f’ word did not feature quite so often in new writing.

An impressive and clever set is fit, Tardis style, into the tiny stage of the Tristan Bates Theatre, with the band on top of the Sarah Michelle Gellar High where most of the action takes place. The cast of 13 is beautifully choreographed, with some talented dancing and acting and once again my breath is taken away by the sheer shining ability of the cast. CJ de Mooi, starring as Ms Axel and also the producer, centred the production with his charismatic comedy which stayed on the right side of panto dame and was brilliantly entertaining. Lea Marinelli as the female lead, Flissy Joy, is sparky and likeable in spite of her terrible nature. Anna Haresnape as Jane is vulnerable and tough at the same time and puts herself in character perfectly. The costumes by Andrew Cox were a living work of art, the colours enchanting. They alone were wonderful to watch.

The action opens in an American high school, with the drunk female teacher Ms Axel breaking taboo after taboo in her mistreatment of her young charges. A new girl, Jane, one of the eponymous geeks, arrives. She is bullied for committing the unforgivable crime of ugliness, although of course beneath the geeky dressing she is a beauty and through various twists and turns of the plot ends up being entered in the pageant. I won’t disclose whether she wins but at this point things start to become quite dark.

The show is arguably rescued from the crudity, and at points slightly worrying lack of sophistication in some of the ‘playground’ humour, by some really interesting ideas behind the plot. Every time I was annoyed by an unsubtle joke, I was pulled back in by the character development and by the sinister undercurrents fearlessly explored. It was overall extremely enjoyable. A talented comedy script-writer could easily do what needs to be done to make this a really great piece. The songs of Scott Morgan, who wrote the entire piece, deserve as much. Some of the ballads were echoing around my head days afterwards. I did love it, but don’t take your grandmother or young grandchild to see it. Well, perhaps the grandma if she likes Blackpool, but definitely not the child.

Review by Ruth Gledhill who you can follow on Twitter at  @RuthieGledhill

Geek! is showing at The Tristan Bates Theatre from 22nd April to 18th May www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk

Ewen Macintosh (The Office) and CJ de Mooi (Eggheads) play the teachers of Sarah Michelle Gellar High in Geek! A New Musical by Scott Morgan.