Review – Betwixt! – Trafalgar Studios

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This is a sad week for me as my cohort in musical theater mayhem, Exedore, is departing the UK and won’t be back any time soon. We had one last night to go out and paint the town red in our usual way (“Let’s see a show!” “Okay!”), and I let him make the pick. Imagine my dismay when he said he wanted to go back a second time to Betwixt!, a show I had already dismissed based on the description on the King’s Head website: “Take … a pair of unlikely heroes, mix with a teaspoon of princess … blend with musical comedy …” Bleah! I was already sapped out and completely unwilling to buy their claims that the score was “masterful.” I mean, who doesn’t crank up the hyperbole? I was actually quite surprised to see that it had apparently transferred to Trafalgar Studios, given that it sounded like such pap (I mean, princesses, BLEAH). But then, it’s summer, theaters are desperate to get fresh things in as we all become bored of the same-old, same-old, so maybe a second rate show could find a home in the basement of Trafalgar Studios -it’s a tiny house, even smaller than the King’s Head (if I’m remembering right). And it’s what Exedore wanted to see. Surely a bitsy two hour show couldn’t hurt me, right?

The show opened with a red haired man (Bailey, Benedict Salter) singing, in a very “musical moderne” style, about his struggles writing. Oh NO. I had sudden flashbacks to Bright Lights, Big City – not just my least favorite style of music, but a trope I hate, the tortured artist. At least he wasn’t an architect. I settled down in a huff, determined to somehow make it to the interval before begging off for the night.

And then blond and very gay Cooper (Steven Webb) shows up, and the whole “let’s spend two hours talking about writers’ block” thing goes out the window (instead becoming “let’s talk about how fabulous I am,” a much better place for me), and the show becomes much snappier, with the first of many jokes making fun of the theatrical conventions we (as audience members) observes enlivening the evening by tickling my brain. I was still worried when we moved into the fairyland scenes – the costumes area really off the rack and the volume issues (i.e. “What did he say?”) began to manifest, but the moment Cooper was greeted as the “great queen of legend,” I put my skepticism away and just went along for the ride.

I’m glad I did, too, for while the lyrics were occasionally hard to pick out (shocking in such a small space, though of course Ellen Green in a triple role of princess/witch/siren showed the young ‘uns how its done), they and the dialogue were very funny. We got a numb-skull soap star, an egotistical actor, and, in a gag of genius, a head in a box, plus comic seduction scenes, not very magical transformations (with hysterical commentary), and JOY OF JOYS a fantastic tap dancing scene during my favorite song, “The Paparazzi Rag.” I was laughing out loud throughout and REALLY enjoyed myself – it was just so clever and fun and SUCH a good time.

Sometimes I feel like I go see so many shows that I’ve become a horrible burnout and I’m hardly capable of enjoying a night at the theater any more. But it’s not true: I’ve just been waiting for the right gem to come along. And Betwixt! is the musical I’ve been hoping for all year – a real “forget about your troubles, c’mon get happy” good time. It’s a real deal at Trafalgar, too, with tickets in the $20-$25 zone. My advice: don’t miss out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 9th, and which we went to see despite the fear of riots in the streets. It was glorious to be completely swept away for the two hours we were in the theater. Anyway, it’s booking through September 10th, and I highly advice you get off of your tookus and go see it.)

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