HOT LIPS AND COLD WAR | London Theatre Workshop

With book, lyrics and music by Lizzie Freeborn, this new fringe musical touches on the lives and deaths of John F. Kennedy (Robert Oliver) and Marilyn Monroe (Freya Tilly) in 1963, alongside First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Marcia Sommerford) and plucky photographer Maria (Sylvie Briggs), fresh off the boat from Ireland. A crowded story for sure, but some great music lets the two and a half hours fly by.

The music, jazzy and sophisticated, with strong melodies, carries the show. Musical director and pianist Oli Rew ensures the chamber score (piano and flute/clarinet/saxophone) carries with punch and finesse, and the vocal skills across the cast are first-rate.

Despite the title, there is no mention of the Cold War. Bizarrely, the White House is village-of-the-happy-people, with all hints of conflict quickly squashed. We root for new-girl-in-town Maria, but she disappears in the second half to make way for Monroe and Kennedy’s fireworks. Despite many winning musical moments, the lack of focus and structure makes it a hard piece to engage with.

The interplay of the mother-and-son servants (Florence Odumosu and Jamal Franklin) adds a really interesting civil rights angle throughout, with some cracking songs, but ultimately only defocuses the story further. There’s some great material here, and plenty to put it above your average fringe musical, but it doesn’t really offer any new insights into history’s most glamorous power couple.

Booking until 24 February 2018.

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