Review – Music Hall Menagerie – Leicester Square Theater

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What does the British musical hall tradition mean for a night on stage? I’ve heard a lot about it since I moved here, but I feel like I don’t really have my head wrapped around it. Is it just basically American vaudeville redux, or were there some special elements to it? Or did everyone just have a lovely bunch of coconuts those days? With those burning questions in my mind, I accepted an invitation to a night that promised “the return of the glories of the music hall,” only at the Leicester Square Theater and with a drag queen as compere. But why not, right? I thought it wasn’t a traditional choice but still appropriate given the evolution of the fandom. To keep me on the music hall path of righteousness (provide quality control and give me an excuse to drink – if this was appropriate), I brought along a friend who is an aficionado.
I was surprised that this was actually at the small stage downstairs at the LST. So intimate! So … um … was this the right size? I thought music hall was a big thing! And our cast was four actors plus our besequined compere … somehow I expected a bit more, perhaps a clown or maybe a live band.

What followed was a mixed bag of schtick/sketch (i.e. two men dressed as women talking about where to go on holiday), diva belting from Miss Dusty “O,” and comic songs in the cabaret vein. We ended the first half with a sort of Cockney medley, including “Oom Pah Pah” and “Lambeth Walk.” During the interval, my companion confided that none of the material had been original; furthermore, it wasn’t really classic music hall, but rather classics of modern British comedy. I, as usual, was completely ignorant of the originals, but I was having a good time so I got another glass of wine and sat back to enjoy the second half. Highlights were, for me, the cast singing “Does Your Mother Know” on ukeleles, and the brunette actresses doing what I was informed was Victoria Wood’s “Pam” – absolutely the highlight of the show for me and delivered with deadly wit. There was also at least one original comedy number in this section as well as credits to the many originators of the sketches, which satisfied my companion.

As a person not familiar with music hall, I don’t feel like this performance gave me any real flavor of it, but it was a good comic variety evening and very pleasant light entertainment ideal for August – plus with its 7 PM start time the dancing nuns were done early enough to get me home in time for “a game of rummy and an Ovaltine.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014. It continues through September 13th.)

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