“It’s plagiarism with rhythm, and there’s nothing better than a good … Reputation.”
We are in mid-1930s Hollywood, where hot-shot writer Freddy Larceny (Jeremy Seacomb) churns out successful screenplays for the big studios. Larceny is a legal term for theft, of course, so the musical is already setting the character up as the bad guy.
Over in a Paris college, Michelle Grant (Maddy Banks, so good earlier in the year in Closer to Heaven, and memorable here as the girl with a plot and a dream) gets hold of a copy of Variety and a route to potential fame.
When the dastardly Larceny steals her story, Michelle isn’t going to let it go, which brings romance into the plot with the arrival of law whizz Archie Bright (Ed Wade, who displays an enviable singing range in “I Knew” but sports an incongruous hairstyle for the period).
Reputation is undoubtedly corny (with the odd clunky rhyme: “Clark Gable and Errol Flynn/standing there when I walk in”), mostly fun, and somewhat sexist, with Larceny literally putting his feet on an adoring female crawling on the floor in one scene.
Secomb’s portrayal of Freddy Larceny is overpowering and somewhat reminiscent of Applegate, the devil figure in Damn Yankees, with a dash of the Astaire hat-tip in the number “Don’t Mess With Freddy”. He’s there as the unreliable narrator in a way, but also to add a snip of devious charm.
With twenty-five songs, including a torch song for a chanteuse not unlike Josephine Baker (“Raindrops”, sung in French and English by the sultry Priscille Grace), and a bedroom gush for the girls (“My Prince Charming”, with pillows and dancing which made me think of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or Oklahoma), this feels like a love letter to movie musicals.
Although the final third stretches incredulity – a patter song for Cory Peterson’s judge doesn’t quite come off, and the reveal of a certain secret feels straight off the pulp fiction page – we all love a happy ending, and we all like to hiss the villain.
The Oscar for Best Original Story was last presented in 1956, which suggests that Hollywood has devalued the Michelle Grants of this world over the years, while the Larcenys (“I taught Cagney to say ‘you dirty rat'”) prosper.
Still, the dreamworld of 30s Tinseltown comes across in a good-looking production, with strong support from Lauren Ingram as the “supportive best friend”, plus Charlie Dennis, Eleanor Tollan and Ashleigh Cavanagh.
Oddly, choreographer Tamsyn Salter has a featured role but isn’t mentioned on the cast page of the programme: she seems to be there just to guide the deportment number “Laydeez” that opens Act Two, with an accent that veers into comic territory like the madame in The Boy Friend.
There are also strange character omissions: Archie’s invisible friend Tom, who Ingram’s Mary sees as a potential romantic partner; tough lawyer Jackson; and the figure who alters the course of Michelle’s case. These seem to hint at underwriting rather than conscious artistic decisions, and Tom in particular seems a loss to the plot and Mary’s own trajectory.
Reputation has music and lyrics by Alick Glass, and is co-authored by Alick and Suzanne Glass. Warren Wills (who plays lively piano along with an uncredited double bassist) directs the show, and Nick Richings designed the atmospheric lighting, with washes of colour, spotlights, and rotating projection.
This new musical will leave you with a smile on your face, and it certainly entertains: more so if you love the films and songs of the 30s, as I do. A general audience may find it somewhat fluffy and simplistic for our modern world – but you can decide for yourself as Reputation continues in the Studio downstairs at The Other Palace until 14 November.
Photo credits Donato.