Review: Can-Can! Union Theatre

A raucous musical filled with the recognisable and classical tunes from the 1800s, performed by a phenomenal cast of triple threats.

This new production has an entirely old-fashioned and legit style (musical theatre that premiered before 1965) that transports you into 1890s Paris. Can- Can! follows the story of Jane and Christian’s romantic relationship, which is forbidden due to Jane’s career on the stage with the Orpheus Theatre alongside Christian’s strict, wealthy father who is a bank owner and disapproves of their relationship. But it all goes down hill when the Orpheus Theatre shuts down and the couple are parted by the father’s rude behaviour. Have no fear however, as love will always win in this classic story loosely based off the plot by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero. Unfortunately, the whole story and script feels slow at times and perhaps quite predictable. It also has a somewhat abrupt ending that leaves you feeling surprised by the sudden finish. But the language used in the script captures the English style of the 1890s and perfectly matches the music.

Kathy Peacock, who plays Jane in this production, is a true star. She sings with effortless ease and precision as she exhibits high dainty melodies. Peacock does a fantastic job as a leading lady and also dances sublimely. Damian Mrackovich plays leading man Christian and also sings with equal precision as his partner, but lacks some confidence. This means he is slightly out of tune at times which is as shame, but infrequent enough for the audience to forgive these moments. The whole cast sing with a purity that is recognisably distinctive with classic musical theatre. Mrackovich matches his singing with even stronger dancing that is technically robust and pleasing to watch. I particularly enjoyed Mrackovich and Peacock’s dance duet that is elegantly danced with passion and beauty.

All of the songs are based on Offenbach and his contemporary’s classics, from Strauss’ ‘Thunder and Lightening Polka’ to ‘Cuban’ by Victor Herbert, all of which have had lyrics cleverly written by Phil Willmott and arranged by Richard Baker. Rosa Lennox and Corrinna Marlowe, both of whom are admirable in their multitalented performance, bring this music to life. Their singing style matches the traditional feel and borders on an opera-like singing throughout. It’s even such an intimate setting that the performers follow this opera trademark and sing with no microphones, however their beautiful voices carry to the very back on the quaint Union Theatre.

A complete standout of the whole show is the choreography by Adam Haigh who has brilliantly showcased a frenzy of talented dancers to their full potential. Tricks, leaps, kicks and turns are seen with extraordinary precision and technique. At no point do the cast feel prohibited by their small stage as they dance larger than life with extreme panache. These moments when the full cast come on stage, are exhilarating and a sudden change from the slow plot. The tremendous can- can finish was by far the stand out of the whole performance. It is also worth mentioning the costumes which replicate the French can- can style absolutely; they are a beautiful addition to the whole piece by Penn O’gara.

I feel slightly unfortunate to have watched the show in such an early stage as some moments feel a bit stuttering, something I believe would be ironed out after another week of shows. Lines were stumbled upon and the general flow of the show didn’t feel entirely comfortable with some cast members yet. But the whole ensemble has an electric energy that carries the show through some stumbling moments. They are a star cast that seem completely faultless.

Overall it is a fun show and has been cleverly adapted with Offenbach’s music to create a full out musical. It contains athleticism, astounding singing and dynamic acting. The thing that makes this show is the extraordinary cast, but is let down by the slow and old-fashioned style of the piece. A fun night at the theatre regardless.

Offenbach’s Can-Can! is playing at The Union Theatre until 9 March 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.