The Prickle (@ThePrickle) July 23, 2019
This 2017 musical about a thriving, multi-racial gay bar in 1970s New Orleans has premiered in London with an all-star cast that any West End production would die for. Olivier-nominated Tyrone Huntley heads up the cast as an attractive, successful, gay, and deeply unhappy fashion designer and Instagram influencer, who in 2019 buys the old, decrepit building that used to house the UpStairs Lounge, and tumbles back in time to one fateful Sunday night in 1973.
The whole show focuses on the vibrancy, colour, and unabashed fun of the real-life UpStairs Lounge, with an intelligent, catchy, 70s rock-inspired score (music, lyrics and book by Max Vernon) and some fizzy choreography (Fabian Aloise). By focusing entirely on the positivity, the tragedy in the last few moments really hits you: 32 people really died that same night, in an unexplained fire, only to be mocked, and laid in unmarked graves.
The show’s overarching theme of insufferable 2019 gay meets angelic 1973 gay is a little heavy-handed. But the theme of homelessness and mental health issues is handled startlingly in a central performance by theatre star Declan Bennett. Andy Mientus (star of NBC’s Smash) offers an adorable, nuanced love interest, again probing at this underlying issue.
Cedric Neal (star of Motown The Musical) is desperately underused, while young, Olivier-nominated Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (star of In The Heights) seems bizarrely miscast as a 50-year-old mother. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Soho Theatre has no air conditioning and the show is two hours with no interval; it’s hotter inside than outside. Somehow, this amazing cast are still able to pull it out of the bag.
Find some kind of paradise until 24 August 2019.