We can’t all be Hamilton – finding a distinctive musical voice is where many exciting new shows fall down. Guy, a musical about the pitfalls of online dating for gay men from the team who brought The Marriage of Kim K to the Arcola last year, does its best to be original. The results, however, are underwhelming.
Opening to a lacklustre electronic overture that sounds crudely stitched together on a laptop, the musical tone of this LGBT+ romcom veers from trying-so-hard-to-be-cool-that-it’s-dead-behind-the-eyes to the trashier end of Europop. Despite some detailed characterisation and an ear for naturalistic dialogue, a poorly structured plot and low energy vocal performances make it easy to swipe left on this promising yet ultimately unsatisfying musical.
Guy (Brendan Matthew) is a larger man who favours tired grey hoodies to sharp styling and Minecraft to hitting the gym. He’s a sensitive soul who desperately wants a boyfriend, and is predictably eaten alive on Grindr. “Mate, want some advice?” a potential suitor sings, “Mate with someone your own size”. Eventually Guy decides to use a photograph of his (very attractive) friend Tyler (Steve Banks) as his profile picture to force his ideal man to see beyond his body. This ethically dubious decision goes just about as well as you might expect.
Matthew does not endow Guy with enough charm to make us forgive his spot of catfishing. As if realising this, writer Leoe Mercer (who wrote the book and lyrics) forgets about the whole thing for a good while, hopping instead to a naff number about exercise regimes followed by a meet cute at the gym. Throughout the show plot strands are left to dangle for long periods of time before being clumsily resolved. The next time Tyler pops up he’s been dumped by his boyfriend and seems to be suffering from an eating disorder – all more or less because of Guy’s actions – yet this is promptly swept under the carpet too.
Guy holds up much better as a drama than a musical. Seann Miley-Moore has bags of charisma as Guy’s new love interest Aziz, while Adam Braidley is hilarious as an outrageous personal trainer. The dialogue is great, even if the plot follows the contrived breakup and makeup patterns of innumerable romcoms.
Some of the songs are also memorable. The motor mouth chorus and lovely harmonies of ‘Stuck in a Generation’ make your ears prick up, while ‘Click’ is enough of an earworm to make up for its terrible lyrics (“we click like a light switch / we shuffle like a playlist”). The lyrics are actually a problem throughout: though the score’s icy synth beats are nicely contemporary, the clichéd sentimentality of the words are an unwelcome blast from the past.
Much like the dating apps themselves, Stephen Hyde’s score is hip and modern yet ultimately soulless. The fact that it’s all pre-recorded takes away from the excitement of live performance. The cast are also much better actors than singers – some of the high notes are weak, the quasi-rapping is ill-advised, and there’s a general air of uncertainty in most of the vocal performances. It’s refreshing that Hyde takes his cues mostly from contemporary pop music rather than aping Sondheim. It’s just a shame that the songs never feel as alive as the Years & Years tracks they emulate.
In its best moments Guy is winningly cheeky, and for the most part its characters are believable and likeable people. Yet for a story about love and passion, musically it’s a damp squib. Though a musical about Grindr was a great idea, Guy is more of an unsatisfying one-night stand than a lasting romance.
Guy is playing at the Bunker Theatre until 7 July
Photo: Simon J Webb