In the current theatre climate there is an incredible necessity and desire for new musicals. The UK is being left behind as Broadway streaks ahead in its musical creations, with Hamilton and Fun Home in recent years. This ambitious professional premiere of Elliot Davis and James Bourne’s 2012 show (commissioned then by Youth Music Theatre UK), Out There, attempts to fly to new heights and find its way among the stars. Unfortunately, it does not quite manage to take off.
The show follows high school dropout-cum-rebellious child-genius Logan, who is wanted by the cops and runs away from home. He is chased down to a little town called Hope in Texas where he is forced upon Ned, the towns resident curmudgeon. We quickly find out that Hope is bankrupt and in need of a way to save the town but they need Ned’s unwilling help before there is no ‘hope’ left at all.
The stand-out element of this production is most definitely the cast. Despite a few interesting accents, the gifted cast manage to keep this musical alive throughout. They tackle the dry script with drive and their efforts do not go unnoticed. Moments of impeccable harmonies stun the audience, particularly in ‘Walking a Thin Line’, and the amount of strong female leads is a refreshing change from many musical productions.
Unfortunately, the cast are let down by the musical itself. Davis and Bourne’s music facilitates the trite, unimaginative story but does little beyond this except provide a few killer notes for the cast to show off their talent. The script feels clumsy and disengaging, a childish fantasy with awkward dialogue.
Despite this, Michael Burgen’s direction feels swift and slick, although some scene changes in the early moments are so rapid as to leave the audience behind at the very beginning of the story, making any emotional engagement with the characters very difficult. Cardboard boxes are utilised to represent children’s dreams of rocket ships and cars, giving the staging a childish but engaging dynamism. Iain Dennis’ lighting design is also refreshing and provides a dream-like, otherworldly atmosphere. Unfortunately, Lisa Mathieson’s choreography in the larger ensemble numbers felt clumsy, forced and unnecessary- the cast attack it with conviction but their attempts to give it meaning are futile.
Despite high expectations, there was not enough substance or interest to make this new show work. It needs to provide something creatively gripping to be considered amongst the greats. That said, although this production is definitely not taking off anytime soon, the cast really are among the stars.
Out There is playing at the Union Theatre until October 8.
Photo: Scott Rylander